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Canadian County jail sees rise in inmates with mental illnesses

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a three-part series about the Canadian County Detention Center. The series explores inmate and employee services, compliance history and more.

Despite a small staff, the Canadian County Detention Center works to ensure inmates’ needs are met, jail administrator Maj. Kristie Carter said.
The jail has recently seen an increase in more inmates with mental illnesses and medical needs.

Canadian County jail inmates’ clothing is folded on racks inside the facility’s laundry room. While some jails allow inmates to work in the laundry room, the CC jail does not. Employees do laundry, as well as various other tasks. Photo / Haley Humphrey

An on-site nurse works from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week at the jail. Eighty hours of medical treatment is available to inmates each week through the center’s provider Turn Key Health.
A nurse practitioner and doctor also come in once a week.
“He is busy from the time he gets here until the time he leaves,” Carter said of the doctor.
On average, Carter said she calls twice a month for inmates to receive additional mental health services. There are currently 190 inmates.
“The care of inmates is our primary responsibility,” she said.

“Somebody asked me what kind of experience do you have to have to work here and I said, ‘Can you treat somebody like they’re human?’ and they said, ‘Yeah’ and I said, ‘That’s all you need,” Carter said.

Inmates can also request to be seen by the nurse and doctor through the jail’s kiosk messaging system. Officers conduct more frequent site checks to ensure inmates with mental illnesses are showering, eating their meals and taking their medication.
“Depending on their status, they may need to be checked on every 15 minutes, instead of every hour, like our average inmate,” Carter said.
A few inmates also have outside medical appointments. Officers take them to their appointments and wait with them.
The jail has a holding area for inmates who must be on suicide watch or need oxygen, as well.
Carter said she works with district attorneys to ensure inmates are receiving the treatment they need.
“We try to be proactive in saying, ‘Hey, we think this person is in need of some mental health services and we can get somebody to come out and evaluate them and determine a good court recommendation or start working with the courts to get them where they need to be,” she said.

Canadian County jail inmates lie on sleeping mats April 8. Although there are bunks for each inmate, jail administrator Maj. Kristie Carter said some prefer to sleep on the floor. There are 57 and 54 male inmates currently housed in each of the jail’s two pods located on the newer side of the facility. The pods can each hold up to 60 inmates. Photo / Haley Humphrey

Mental health services available to jail employees
To Carter’s knowledge, Canadian County is looking into an employee assistance program that could incorporate mental health services. Jail employees also have access to mental health services through their insurance benefits, she said.
Staff can also utilize the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office Incident Team, which provides referrals to mental health services. The team aims to have an employee from each division.
Carter said the jail, like many others, has a high-turnover employee rate. About four years is the longest an employee has been with the jail.
There are six employees who have been at the jail since Carter hired on in 2019. The average officer’s stay is about a year.
The jail can employ up to 36 people. All staff undergo a background check to ensure they don’t have a criminal history.
Currently, there are 31 employees — 29 officers and two non-security positions for maintenance and food service.
Many officers use the jail as a starting point for patrol division, Carter said.
The jail also has a high-turnover offender population.
Since the jail houses pre-trial offenders, their time at the jail is not as long as a person who has been sentenced. However, when Carter started working, there was an inmate who had been in the county jail for seven years on a pending murder case.
The current longest offender time spent at the jail is about three and a half years, she said.

Jail looking to hire
Detention officers have various responsibilities from booking and releasing to site checks, cleaning, delivering meal trays to inmates, changing clothing and bedding, passing hygiene supplies, medical transports and more.
“Here we do a little bit of everything,” Carter said. “… We pass food trays, whereas a lot of facilities have a food line.”
There are three eight-hour shifts for staff.

Officers’ salaries remain the same each year, Carter said. The starting salary with benefits for detention officers is $54,900.
Carter’s position with benefits is $90,184.
Without benefits, officers make $35,201 and the jail administrator makes $63,110. The hourly wage for officers is $16.92.

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