This is a great development. Community leaders have started a task force to address mental health issues in the jail. Props to Grand Traverse County Commissioner Sonny Wheelock for the sincere interview and genuine comments. Wheelock said that they can do better and they want to do better addressing mental health concerns for people in the Grand Traverse County Jail. Now that’s the right thing to say.
The statements are in contrast to the comments that Sheriff Bensley issued on April 4, 2018. In those comments, Bensley implied that the jail’s physical structure is the only thing wrong with the jail and money is the only way to fix it. Bensley said, “…the deficiencies are not remediable without expensive major renovations, demolition and reconstruction of portions of the jail, or a totally new jail.” He also references “building related limitations and problems.”
What I’d like to hear is an explanation of why Bensley believes that the jail’s physical structure is leading to suicides and attempted suicides. What specifically about the structure is inadequate? Are there studies that show that jails with similar layouts to the Grand Traverse County Jail have higher suicide rates than other jails? If so, what’s the deficiency that contributes to mental health problems and suicide attempts with this design of a jail? What do jails with high suicide rates have in common structurally? What do jails with low suicide have in common structurally? Has Bensley studied the issue, or is the link between the physical jail structure and suicide attempts merely his conjecture? If there is a proven link between the structure and suicide attempts, the community would like to hear it so that we can brainstorm for a solution.
Also in the April 4 statement, Bensley said, “County jails are not the place for people with mental health issues.” The vast majority of people who commit crimes have mental health issues, especially the ones who are frequent flyers and likely to end up in jail for extended stays. To imply that a sheriff’s department has no duty or a limited duty for the welfare of those in jail with mental health issues is horribly misunderstanding the realities of enforcing the law and serving the public, both the criminals and everyone else.
Thank you to the county leaders who are sincerely trying to make a difference.