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Everything You Need to Know About the Sandra Bland Act

The Sandra Bland Act seeks changes to the corrections industry to promote the safety and security of inmates experiencing mental health challenges. So, how can your facility remain in compliance with this law?

Senate Bill 1849, more commonly known as the Sandra Bland Act, mandates additional compliance requirements by Texas jails to help ensure the safety and security of inmates with mental illness. The Sandra Bland Act was signed into law on June 15, 2017, in hopes of seeing changes that promote the safety and security of inmates dealing with mental health struggles. 

But who is Sandra Bland? What exactly is the Sandra Bland Act? How can you ensure your facility remains in compliance with it? This blog dives into who Sandra Bland was, why an Act was designed after her, and tips for maximizing your facility's compliance.

Who is Sandra Bland?

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 on July 10, 2015, for a traffic violation by Texas State Trooper, Brian Encinia. The interaction became heated which resulted in Bland being removed from her car, forcibly moved to the ground, arrested, and booked into the Waller County Jail for resisting arrest. 

A few days later, 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 had also 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." He added that he had "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. Her death quickly became a news story that spread throughout the U.S. Protests and online furor attention intensified because of her role involvement as a Civil Rights Activist within Black Lives Matter.

National media coverage of Sandra Bland’s arrest and subsequent death in custody resulted in Representative Garnet Coleman, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, sponsoring the original Sandra Bland bill. Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire then 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 secure a consent search legally.

So, what became of this?

What is the Sandra Bland Act?

Senate Bill 1849, otherwise known as the Sandra Bland Act, was signed into law on June 15, 2017, by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. The bill was introduced to make necessary changes to interactions between law enforcement and individuals arrested or detained on suspicion of criminal offenses. The Sandra Bland Act addresses how law enforcement should be trained and the resources needed to handle mental illness, substance abuse, or intellectual differences. Some of the requirements of this law include: 

  • Identifying and diverting inmates with a mental illness or an intellectual disability to treatment centers

  • Investigating in-custody deaths through independent law enforcement agencies 

  • Requiring officers to complete de-escalation training 

  • Implementing an automation system in county jails to ensure accurate and punctual face-to-face checks between officers and high-risk inmates

Part of the Sandra Bland Act aims at improving electronic monitoring and reporting on high-risk inmates. This includes:

HB.2702.SECTION 3.06.22.b

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 [...].

SB.1849.Section 3.05.a.23.C

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.

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. This is where electronic monitoring becomes especially pertinent in ensuring compliance with the Sandra Bland Act.

Electronic monitoring automatically identifies an inmate by name, housing assignment, and booking number. They can also note requests, such as medical attention, notable behaviors, special assignments or status, etc. So when something like a death happens in custody, investigators will examine records specific to the observations of the inmate in question in the hours or days before and during the time in question. These observations can include behavioral notes that speak to demeanor, disposition, and general attitude. 

The electronic monitoring solution can use wireless sensors, such as GUARDIAN RFID’s wristbands, ID cards, or Hard Tags. 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. 

The identification solution you choose combined with a mobile device allows you to document and access information that helps to optimize compliance with the Sandra Bland Act. 

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 specific to locations only. Traditional, wand-like guard tour systems can tell when and where a cell check was done.

However, guard tour systems cannot identify which inmates are checked, their demeanor, where they are, what they are doing, and what medications, supplies, or medical services they 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 is in custody, as well as inmate housing assignments, and inmate classification. 

If you don’t know who is in custody with electronic monitoring, you cannot faithfully detail and capture inmate-specific data. This can result in deficient or incomplete reporting that can put your administration and its staff’s safety at risk and in legal jeopardy. 

How Does Electronic Monitoring Provide Proactive Notifications or Alerts?

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 (such as the SPARTAN)

  • 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 hour. This type of cadence will eventually tip off inmates and help them anticipate staff appearance making it easier to conceal illicit behavior.

In the case of Sandra Bland, investigators discovered that chunks of time elapsed without any documented cell checks on Bland’s cell that exceeded Texas Jail Standards security round requirements. While 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.

Does Electronic Monitoring Support Inmate and Incident-Specific Cloud Reporting?

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 staff took all necessary and lawful steps to comply with standards. 

Transparency, ease of access, and inmate-specific reporting driven by date, time, location, and keywords will help you maximize communication, defensibility, and compliance. This can all be achieved by reliable, efficient, and accurate technology, as seen with modern electronic monitoring solutions. Best-in-class electronic monitoring platforms are Cloud-based, which enables 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:

HB.2702.SECTION 2.06.a.1

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.

HB.2702.SECTION 3.08.a/b

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, effective 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 for using mobile devices, since they electronically validate your presence and proximity to inmates, and support point of responsibility data capture.