Senate Bill 1849, more commonly known as the Sandra Bland Act, was signed into law on June 15, 2017 by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and sees changes to bail reform, jail diversion, jail safety, officer training, racial profiling, data collection, officer discipline and behavioral health. The Sandra Bland Act mandates additional compliance requirements by Texas jails to help ensure safety and security of inmates with mental illness, including electronic monitoring.
Sandra Bland, a 28-year old native of Illinois, was driving to Prairie View A&M University outside Hempstead, a rural city in Waller County, Texas. She was pulled over July 10 for a traffic violation by Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia. The interaction became heated, resulting in Bland being removed her from her car. She was forcibly moved to the ground, then arrested.
Bland was booked into the Waller County Jail for resisting arrest. On July 13, she was offered breakfast but refused. Less than three hours later, Bland was found by a correctional officer in a semi-standing position in her cell, hanging by a plastic garbage bag.
The official autopsy report by Harris County ruled her death by suicide. The report also showed Bland had multiple abrasions on the right side of her back, slight abrasions on her wrists, and 25 to 30 healing, parallel cuts on her left forearm that predated her arrest.
The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office found "a remarkably high concentration" of THC for someone who had been in jail for three days. This finding was substantiated by a toxicologist from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office. The toxicologist stated that the THC level as high as Bland's suggests she "either had access to the drug in jail or she was a consistent user of the drug and her body had accumulated THC to the point that it was slowly releasing it over time." But he added: "I have never seen a report in the literature or from any other source of residual THC that high three days after someone stops using the drug."
After her death, it was revealed that Bland had a history of mental health issues and may have been suffering from depression during the time of her arrest.
The death of Sandra Bland became a news story that spread throughout the U.S. Protests and online furor attention was intensified because of her role involvement as a Civil Rights Activist within Black Lives Matter, which
National media coverage of Sandra Bland’s arrest and subsequent death in custody resulted in state Representative Garnet Coleman, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, sponsored the original Sandra Bland bill. Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire struck several provisions from the original bill amid criticism from police groups that it would hamper law enforcement's work, including adding extra steps to legally secure a consent search.
What is the Sandra Bland Act?
Senate Bill 1849, more commonly known as the Sandra Bland Act, was signed into law on June 15, 2017 by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and sees changes to bail reform, jail diversion, jail safety, officer training, racial profiling, data collection, officer discipline and behavioral health.
Texas jails must work to identify and divert inmates with a mental illness or an intellectual disability to treatment centers. Other requirements include in-custody deaths must be investigated by independent law enforcement agencies and officers have to complete de-escalation training. Additionally, county jails must implement an automation system to ensure accurate and punctual face to face check between officers and high-risk inmates. To see the Sandra Bland Act in its entirety, click here.
Part of the Sandra Bland Act aims at improving electronic monitoring and reporting on high-risk inmates. This includes:
The commission shall [...] adopt reasonable standards for jails in establishing guidelines for inmate safety that include requiring jails to have [...] automated electronic sensors to ensure accurate and timely cell checks [...].
The commission shall [...] adopt reasonable rules and procedures to ensure the safety of prisoners, including rules and procedures that require a county jail to [...] install automated electronic sensors or cameras to ensure accurate and timely in-person checks of cells or groups of cells confining at-risk individuals.
3 Tips for gaining electronic monitoring compliance with the Sandra Bland Act
Choosing the right electronic monitoring solution to build and sustain Sandra Bland Act compliance is an important decision. Here are three considerations for making the right decision.
- Does the electronic monitoring solution support inmate-specific data collection?
The incident that gave way to the creation of the Sandra Bland Act, emphasizes the importance of inmate-specific data collection.
Electronic monitoring should automatically identify an inmate by name and their housing assignment. In a death in custody, investigators will examine records specific to the observations of the inmate in question in the hours before and during the time in question. These observations can include behavioral notes that speak to demeanor, disposition, and general attitude. Electronic logs can also note requests, such as medical attention. An inmate may decline services such as medications, meal, recreation time, etc. Guard tour systems often log only staff presence during security rounds. To maximize Sandra Bland Act compliance, you need to log observations and interactions specific to a named offender.
The more detailed your data collection is, the more useful this information will serve investigators’ in performing their responsibilities to understand whether deliberate indifference was a contributing factor to an inmate’s death, or whether corrections staff took all necessary and lawful steps to comply with standards. (See this blog, “Great Documentation Defeats Risk in Corrections.”)
The electronic monitoring solution can use wireless sensors, such as RFID tags. The Hard Tags from GUARDIAN RFID are a common example of wireless sensor. Any sensors you deploy should automatically identify an inmate by name, housing assignment, and booking number. Mobile devices, such as SPARTAN should connect to your sensors, helping to digitize your data collection specific to one or more offenders based on information shared with your jail management system. Companies such as Spillman, Tyler Technologies, Southern Software, and many other companies with jail management systems deployed in Texas already integrate with GUARDIAN RFID to automate data sharing up-to-the-minute, which is the foundation of supporting inmate-specific data collection.
Are guard tour systems a form of electronic monitoring?
Historically, guard tour systems have served as a form of electronic monitoring.
However, traditional guard tour systems that use a form of auto-identification called iButtons have supported data collection that is specific to locations only. Traditional, wand-like guard tour systems can tell you when and where a cell check was done. But guard tour systems cannot identify which inmates were checked, what was their demeanor, where did they go, and what did medications, supplies, or medical services did the inmate receive? This is because guard tour systems are commonly standalone solutions. They generally do not integrate with jail management systems, resulting in the guard tour system frequently lacking knowledge of who’s in custody, as well as inmate housing assignments, and inmate classification. If you can’t know who’s in custody with electronic monitoring, you cannot faithfully capture inmate-specific data, resulting in deficient or incomplete reporting that can put your administration and its staff in legal jeopardy. (See this blog, “Why Three Jail Administrators Switched from Guard Tour to GUARDIAN RFID.”)
- How does the electronic monitoring solution provide proactive notifications or alerts?
In the case of Sandra Bland, investigators discovered that chunks of time elapsed without any documented cell checks on Bland’s cell that were in excess of Texas Jail Standards security round requirements.
Despite the fact that Bland was not classified as a high-risk offender, which often triggers a high-frequency, 15 minute check requirement by jail staff, the Waller Co. Sheriff’s Office failed to log at least hourly checks on Bland as they would perform on general population inmates. This doesn’t mean that staff didn’t perform their checks, but there is no documentation to substantiate that these required hourly rounds were completed.
Effective electronic monitoring should provide real-time, proactive guidance to let staff know that cell checks are due to be completed, and the amount of time remaining before you become non-compliant.
This could come in a variety of ways:
- Push notifications to mobile devices
- Warnings and alarms with Web-based visual and audible notifications
- Email alerts to shift supervisors
Cell check guidance should also support fully staggered, security round management. Rather than an electronic monitoring solution notifying staff to log 15, 30, 45, or 60 minute checks, the solution should ensure that a well-being check is completed no more than every 15 minutes, but not mandate that they’re logged on the quarter hour, half hour, or on the hour. This type of cadence will eventually tip-off inmates and help them anticipate staff appearance so that they can more easily conceal illicit behavior.
- Does the electronic monitoring solution support inmate, as well as incident-specific Cloud reporting?
Transparency, ease of access, and inmate-specific reporting driven by date, time, location, and keyword will help you maximize communication, defensibility, and compliance.
Modern electronic monitoring platforms will support browser-based reporting, versus Windows clients that required software to be licensed and installed on each workstation or device.
Best-in-class electronic monitoring platforms are Cloud-based, which will enable you and your staff secure access to security-critical data from any Internet-accessible device, including workstations, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Why does the Cloud matter? Cloud-based platforms dramatically reduce your upfront costs and expenses (no servers and server software to buy, software and server patches to maintain, applications to update, backups to worry about etc.) Cloud is all value with no overhead. Your time to deployment is faster, and the Cloud enables you to securely run your facility from literally any device.
Cloud reporting enables you to search for the data you need on your terms. Find observations and incidents by inmate last name, booking number, tags, and other words or phrases can help increase your defensibility and compliance, and doing so from any device can also improve reporting response time, internal communication, and stronger staff accountability.
Use of Confinement and Incident Reporting
Savvy corrections professionals will notice two other required provisions of the Sandra Bland Act that may be overlooked by the emphasis placed on electronic monitoring during security rounds and cell checks.
This includes the following:
The sheriff of a county may notify the Health and Human Services Commission [...] on the confinement in the county jail of an individual who is receiving medical assistance benefits [...].
Best-in-class electronic monitoring solutions to meet Sandra Bland Act compliance will help you digitize your entire confinement event and reporting needs. These data collection capabilities should support:
- Date of confinement event
- Reason for confinement
- Length of confinement event
- Medical screenings within two hours of confinement
- Staggered, 15 minute cell check log entries
In addition, your electronic monitoring solution should generate all confinement event reports that collate all of the above data into one comprehensive report.
Incident Reporting is Mandatory.
The Sheriff of each county jail shall report on a monthly basis to the Commission the occurrence in their jail of: suicides, attempted suicides, deaths, serious injuries, assaults, escapes, sexual assaults, and uses of force. The Commission shall make this data available to the public, and shall produce a monthly report of the data.
Incident reporting should not be overlooked when it comes to electronic monitoring compliance with the Sandra Bland Act.
When it comes to high-risk offenders, especially those who are mentally ill, great documentation can make the difference between exoneration or your agency being accused of deliberate indifference. Your electronic monitoring solution should be robust to create modules that help you collect data pertinent to a wide variety of scenarios. Built-in data collection tools, such as imaging, video, and other evidence-gathering tools are often ideal using mobile devices, since it electronically validates your presence and proximity to inmates, and supports point of responsibility data capture.
To learn more about how Texas Jails are using electronic monitoring solutions to gain compliance with the Sandra Bland Act, download this Webinar, How to Improve Compliance with Texas Jail Standards & the Sandra Bland Act, moderated by Captain Daniel Quam, Jail Administrator, Fort Bend Co. Sheriff’s Office (Richmond, Texas), and Greg Piper, Senior Trainer and Implementation Specialist at GUARDIAN RFID. Captain Quam discusses his agency’s quest for an electronic monitoring solution to gain stronger compliance with jail standards and now the Sandra Bland Act.
You can also download this free PowerPoint on Sandra Bland Act Electronic Monitoring or visit the Texas Commission on Jail Standards website: https://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/ to learn more about maximizing your compliance.