This is part two of a three-part series in an attempt to find answers to the three deaths over two months in 2017.
Don Bischoff, captain at the Mohave County jail, said there is a misconception or miscommunication about what goes on in a jail.
“A lot of perception that comes into play is based on the expectations of inmates,” Bischoff said.
If inmates don’t like the answers they are given to requests or if they don’t like the food, they will try to manipulate the system and twist the perception, he continued.
Bischoff said that at any given time there are about 550 inmates in general population. Most of the direct contact with inmates happens during the intake and booking process. He went on to say most of general population is there for felony offenses, and very few misdemeanors are in general population.
Those who do come in on misdemeanors upon intake are released within 24 hours. There are inmates in general population who have been sentenced to county time.
There are 113 detention officers, five sergeants, and six corporal positions at the jail. Not to mention support staff who largely work in data entry and have no direct contact with inmates, Bischoff said.
“If all the positions were filled, we’d be in a good situation,” Bischoff said. “As it is, we have to figure out how to get things done while short-staffed.”
There is no acceptable standard or ratio of officers to inmates, but Bischoff said ideally the fewer inmates and the more officers the better. As it is, there is roughly 18-20 officers on duty at any time.
Contact with inmates is usually limited to meal services, paperwork deliveries, commissary and other services throughout the day. So officers are in and out of housing pods without any set patterns, and as other tasks allow they do checks in the pods as well.
Bischoff said if an inmate does exhibit any kind of a threat to staff, they are locked down to their cell. All services are then done through the cell door, and the inmate can only come out of the cell when none of the other inmates in the pod are out.
However, Bischoff said it is hopeful the classification process will prevent any of those kinds of events.
“It’s not perfect, and we don’t always have space,” Bischoff said, “but we try to find the best place for inmates.”
The classification process assesses the current charges of an inmate as well as criminal history and institutional records to see if an inmate will be safe or a good fit for a certain housing pod.
Each cell has an intercom and each pod has a phone, which Bischoff said is called a communicator. These intercoms and phones are used to contact staff. Calls can be anything from “I don’t feel safe” to “What day is it?” Bischoff said.
“Inmates can communicate internally with classification officers,” Bischoff said. “There is always somebody for them to communicate with.”
In the event of fights, staff act as quickly as possible. Officers will see it on the cameras or hear it through the intercom from an inmate. They immediately break up the fight, and any injuries are taken care of. Officers will then interview the inmates involved to try to identify the primary aggressor. The aggressor is usually brought back to the holding and intake area to be reclassified, Bischoff said.
Control room officers can see into the housing units, so they can also keep an eye out for any red flags, such as multiple inmates entering a cell. Officers can also use the intercoms to listen in on the cells, which can tip them off to inmates planning assaults, Bischoff said.
Reaction times can vary depending on where staff are and what’s happening.
“It can literally be seconds, or it can be as long as a minute or two,” Bischoff said.
If officers are right around the corner after having delivered dinner, or if they are across the compound is what makes those times so different.
“Our staff is dedicated and caring,” Bischoff said. “There’s a lot of good that goes on in the jail. Can we always do better? Absolutely.”
Part three “In custody deaths aren’t taken lightly” will run Tuesday, Jan. 23.