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Jail Oversight and Reform

The Sheriff has been in to present to the Board of Commissioners a number of times–after each suicide, after the healthcare lawsuit, to propose an outside audit for healthcare and mental health services, for unsuccessful budget requests, the results of the NCCHC audit, and since charges have finally been filed against former Captain Ritter, the issues about why it took so long for his actions to come to light. There is a great deal to understand on the topic of jail reform in Grand Traverse County.

Ritter Case Documents

Before viewing the video from October 7, it is useful to read the documents in the Ritter case which are available fromChannel 9 and 10 News which originally obtained them or here:

First, read the Shea Report, followed by the Janis Adams report; it is long but is the most useful document in understanding this mess. The key question that I have is why did Corrections Officers not report problems earlier? It appears that

Site Survey by NCCHC Resources

NCCHC Resources is a consulting practice associated with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. The County Contracted with NCCHC to perform a review of the procedures and compliance for healthcare and mental health care at the jail. The report identified a number of problems that I won't repeat here. See the Channel 9 and 10 News report or download the report here.

October 7, 2020 Board of Commissions Discussion on Jail Oversight

For me, the key thing to come out of the discussion is the fact that Corrections Officers did not feel comfortable reporting problems at the jail to their second-line manager, the Undersheriff (until the promotion of Mike Shea to the role), nor did they feel comfortable reporting the problems to their third-line manager, Sheriff Bensley. The key discussion begins at about minute 46:30 when Commissioner Coffia asked why reports in a letter from a Corrections Officer's wife one year before was not taken seriously.

It is worth noting that the useful discussion on how to improve jail procedures does not begin until about 36:45, when Commissioner Coffia is allowed her first question.

The Sheriff acknowledged that Undersheriff Shea instituted a new "open door" policy that resulted in the problems coming to light. Beginning at 1:08 there is a discussion of the when a whistleblower policy was implemented. This is a key procedural change.

What Needs To Be Done?

It is clear that we need to replace the jail, but it is far from clear how large it should be, where it should be and how it should be configured. While I take issue with the lack of responsibility that the Sheriff feels for many of the problems, I agree completely with his opening remarks that the jail is obsolete. The Commission should have spent time this term on figuring out a plan for the Jail, but instead of spent inordinate amounts of time on Line 5, the gun sanctuary resolution, Northern Lakes Community Mental Health budget, the discussion of whether to move the pension from MERS to some other vendor. Early in the term Commissioner LaPointe spoke at length about the problem, but he was never able to get in on the agenda.

One of the key factors in sizing the jail is forecasting population growth and looking at additional diversion programs that reduce the number of people who end up with jail sentences.

There are numerous follow-up items from the NCCHC report.

There is plenty of work here.