Mental Health and Prison Reform After Sandra Bland

State officials now say they are ready to implement new intake procedures.

By Rhonda FanningSeptember 16, 2015 9:20 am

The investigation into the arrest and subsequent death of Sandra Bland could be finished soon.

Bland was pulled over in Waller County in July for failing to signal a lane change. She was found hanged in her jail cell 3 days later, her death ruled a suicide.

Bland’s mother filed a wrongful death suit and at a federal court hearing this week, Texas Assistant Attorney General Seth Byron Dennis told a judge that the Texas Rangers’ report could come as soon as mid-October.

Bland’s death has sparked numerous debates — one of which is the screening process for mental illness when someone is taken into police custody.

Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, talks to the Standard about new intake procedures addressing mental health.

Wood says his commission reviewed the intake screening form, implemented in 2000, after noticing that officers who received a response that would raise a “red flag” didn’t always follow up on those. The new form requires officers to contact their supervisors and mental health professionals.

“This is not a diagnostic tool,” Wood says. “This will kick off the process.”

Wood says they want to make the form less subjective by requiring officials to follow up on any positive answers on the form. With Sandra Bland, Wood says the new form may have helped because it would have triggered the next step for mental health intervention, but it’s hard to say if it would have saved her life.

“Since she wasn’t in crisis, then more than likely she would not have been a priority even for the mental health authority because their resources are rather stretched thin,” he says.

Wood says he hopes that more people will take the initiative to act on any information officers receive about past mental health issues.

“If nothing else, this will put more people on notice and make them aware of the initial issues on hand,” Wood says.