When accused pedophile and disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in a New York jail cell this past weekend, a litany of questions were left in his wake. Chief among them: Why was he allowed off suicide watch after reportedly being found unconscious in his cell on July 23?
Locally, the Scott County jail has had a few instances of suicide among inmates in recent years, but Jail Administrator Bryce Schmidt said the jail goes "above and beyond" Iowa's requirements for how jails must tend to inmates on suicide watch.
The jail houses 329 inmates in-house as of Tuesday, and 43 more are held at off-site facilities. The jail had suicides in 2011 and 2014, but Schmidt said there are typically a few suicide attempts each year.
"We put our inmates on a 15-minute watch, which means every 15 minutes they get checked on by an officer," Schmidt said. Typical check-ins for non-suicidal inmates are once in every 30 minute period.
Schmidt said there are two primary catalysts for putting an inmate on suicide watch: if a correctional officer catches someone trying to harm themselves, such as putting a sheet or blanket around their neck, or if an officer hears comments from a prisoner about harming themselves. They see these warning signs two or three times a week, Schmidt said, often in the booking area.
"If they make comments about harming themselves, they go into a suicide smock," Schmidt said. Those can be removed but are difficult to be used in a way that prisoners could harm themselves. "It's not a choice; usually those two things will automatically put them in one."
To get out of a suicide smock, inmates must be analyzed by a psychologist. Schmidt said a psychologist works Mondays and Fridays, plus two nurse practitioners with psychology backgrounds work Wednesdays.
In addition to the rounds, inmates may also be monitored on camera to determine if there's a risk of them harming themselves or others. Each housing unit has at least two cells that can be recorded. All booking cells are recorded as well.
Still, no prevention method is truly foolproof, Schmidt said.
"The more rounds you can do and more video you can do is obviously the best solution. It's just that everything can't be a perfect world," he said.