My name is Kenny Bradshaw and I have been the Jail Commander for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office for over nine years. Prior to that I served 24 years with the Arizona Department of Corrections, retiring as a Deputy Warden. I am also a past president of the Arizona Detention Association and was selected as Jail Commander of the year for the State in 2014.
In the United States, incarceration is the main form of punishment and rehabilitation for those charged and sentenced in the commission of a crime. For thousands of years human beings have been incarcerating other human beings and yet, no one has been able to “get it right”. In prisons and jails around the world we still hear of suicides, homicides, rape, inappropriate relationships, mental health issues, corrupt staff introducing miscellaneous contraband, escapes, and extortion.
In Cochise County we continue striving to “get it right”. The Cochise County Detention Division provides extensive training on subjects such as suicide prevention, mental health, first aid, and inappropriate staff/inmate relations. Frequent rounds and mentoring by supervisors and closed-circuit camera monitoring help to keep inmates and staff doing the right things.
In relation to inmate suicides, the fact is that nationwide suicides are on the rise in Jails. Statistically there are more suicides in Jails than in Prisons. One reason for the discrepancy is that a Prison often knows who they are getting, while Jails have very little to work with as far as assessing individuals for suicidal tendencies. A sad fact in our society is if an addict commits suicide in an alley or in his living room there is very little attention paid to this incident. However, if this happens in the Jail, it usually ends up on the front page of the newspaper and headlines the local tv news. In Cochise County we are very transparent with any incident involving the Sheriff’s Office, including the Jails. We understand our custodial responsibility that includes the challenge of dealing with inmates who suffer from mental health issues and who truly want to harm themselves, knowing it will be difficult to stop them.
Mental health is another high priority issue which is a significant problem in both Jails and Prisons. For example: If a law enforcement officer has been called to the local convenience store multiple times on their shift to deal with a person yelling at customers and causing a disturbance, due to a lack of appropriate mental health facilities, they have very little choice in Cochise County but to arrest them and take them to Jail where they most likely will not receive the necessary help needed. Some individuals suffering from mental health issues are so disabled that they cannot be placed into general population because they are either preyed upon by other inmates or they are a danger to other inmates. In these cases, these individuals are separated from the general population until they can be stabilized. Understand that isolation can be detrimental to those NOT suffering from mental illness, so just imagine the possible effects to those with mental illness who are housed separately to protect themselves and others.
Continuing to address inmate mental health concerns, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office Detention Division is implementing a new program to help address some of the mental health issues within our Jail. The program begins in the booking process, wherein a mental health screening tool will be utilized to help determine an individual’s mental state and capacity. If it is determined that an arrestee scores moderate or high on the assessment scale, the information will be relayed to the Judge conducting the initial appearance. The Judge can then order the inmate released upon admission to a mental health facility, thus ensuring they spend no more than a day in jail.
Immediately addressing inappropriate personnel behavior is critical to our success. As previously stated, I have been working in detention and corrections for over 33 years and inappropriate inmate/staff relations have been an ongoing issue within Jails and Prisons throughout my career. From my beginning in 1986, our academy sergeant suddenly resigned and married an inmate, to just last week when a young male Detention Officer inappropriately touched a female inmate.
Regardless of the amount of training, regardless the threats of felony prosecution, regardless of organizational structure, if we have human beings associating with each other in Jails and Prisons there will be inmates and staff who cross the line. This includes manipulative inmates trying to game staff, staff taking advantage of their custodial position, and those who truly believe they have developed a relationship within the confinement walls.
The Sheriff’s Office is continuing to work with the Cochise County Board of Supervisors to increase jail personnel to address inmate security and to allow enough staffing so that no staff member would ever be alone with an inmate. We are also in the planning phase to acquire more modern closed-circuit cameras to adequately cover the jail as we continue in our efforts to keep inmates and staff safe and secure.
With an increase in staff and technology Cochise County Sheriff’s Office believes many Jail incidents can be significantly reduced and/or halted. These are some of the dedicated efforts we are undertaking to “get it right.”
Cochise County Sheriff’s Office