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Bedsheets for inmates: A reader, official discuss

Dan Morse

An interesting question-and-answer between a reader and an official turned up in the comments section of a recent Crime Scene post about the death of a Montgomery County inmate.

I've posted the exchange below. And I encourage readers to weigh in with questions and thoughtful criticisms and comments about what we write here and elsewhere on the site and in the newspaper.

Reader mstov asked:

Why do local detention centers continue to give inmates linen bedsheets?

In response, we got a comment from Art Wallenstein, director of Montgomery County's Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. Excerpts below:

Mstov above offers a solid question that warrants a thoughtful response. If "suicide or self destructive proof" materials [were] the issue that would be easy. They exist and of course prisoners could be given nothing or a tear proof gown and placed in a cell with no sleeping items at all. To do this with 16,000 prisoners who enter yearly would be unconstitutional and not juustified for all arrivals.
Montgomery County has followed state of the art practices and skill assessment and superior Correctional Officer supervision processes and that is why this was the first act of this nature in over 10 years and 150,000 prisoner arrivals. The key to suicide prevention in a best practices correctional setting is quality intake assessment to isolate at risk cases followed by quality supervision protocols and intense monitoring even at times assigned one staff member to watch one inmate at enormous cost $375 per shift.
Life safety is both the focus and our goal and we do that very well. If there is a will there is a will there is a way and in this case the prisoner involved was not deemed a risk for self destructive behavior. It is easy after the fact to suggest a linkage but it is far more complex to select those as part of 16,000 yearly admissions. Professional mental health/behavioral health staff in Montgomery County have proven their ability and skill to make these judgments successfully over many years in concert with superior Correctional Officers who receive serious advanced training in mental illness issues as part of the law enforcement CIT training.
This event happened even in the presence of as good a process and the best staff one could find in the corrections profession. There is no large jail with a better record. We feel very badly and we will learn from this event.

If you have questions for The Post's Crime and Justice team, e-mail us. We read every message we get.

By Dan Morse  |  December 17, 2009; 8:51 AM ET
Categories:  Dan Morse , Montgomery , Prison Beat , Reader Questions  
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