Avoiding Allegations of Deliberate Indifference (Part 2)


Deliberate indifference can be defined as a “conscious or reckless disregard of the consequences of one’s acts or omissions,” or simply put, “What did you know, when did you know it, and what did you do about it?” Without question, you will want to do all you can to avoid allegations and to defend cases of deliberate indifference in jail attempted and completed suicides.  I drew upon my personal experience working in large, maximum security jails with an average daily inmate count of 3,800 inmates.

I divided my recommendations into two areas of responsibilities:

  • Administrative and Supervision (Part 1)
  • Custodial Line Staff (sworn officers or civilian guards) (Part 2)

Here are my recommendations:


Custodial Line Staff (Sworn Officers or Civilian Guards)

Medication supervision

While providing security for the medical staff when medication is given out to the inmates, ensure the inmate is actually swallowing the medicine.  Look to see that the inmate actually puts the pills in his/her mouth and swallows.  Inspect each inmate’s mouth to ensure this.  Do not let an inmate walk away with the pills in his/her hand.  This is one way inmates hoard medications and then later overdose on them.

Refusal of medications

If an inmate wishes to refuse his/her medication, the refusal must be face-to-face with the medical staff.  That refusal must be documented in the medical chart.

If the inmate refuses to exit his/her cell to make the refusal to the medical staff, have the medical staff go to the inmate and take his refusal at his cell.  Make sure the refusal is well documented.

Penitentiary cellblock. The West Virginia State Penitentiary (now closed). Once held Charles Manson.

Safety checks in the jail’s discipline housing area

Safety checks in the jail’s discipline housing area

The line staff should be aware that inmates in segregation/discipline often have higher levels of depression and suicidal ideation than inmates housed in general population.  For this reason, it is critical to perform safety checks at least every 30 minutes.

When observing the inmates who are in discipline (as well as anywhere in the jail), at the first hint of inmates suffering a psychiatric crisis, no matter how seemingly minor, the inmate needs to be taken immediately to see the medical/mental heath professionals.

The medical staff should conduct daily sick-call of the inmates in disciplinary cell housing.

Window covering

Never allow inmates to cover up their cell window.  Experience has shown that oftentimes when inmates cover up their window, they attempt suicide.  Never wait to have the covering removed.

While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, it is provided for educational purposes and is not intended to provide legal advice.

About the author:

Police Procedures Consultant Expert Witness No.983 (Lt. Retired) brings 30 years of front-line law enforcement experience to a wide range of police and jail topics. Twenty of his 30 years in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were in supervisory and command positions. Police Procedures Consultant Expert Witness No.983 is deemed a qualified expert in the use of force, use of the Taser, police practices, and jail/prison inmate culture in the State of California Superior Courts, State of Nevada Courts, and in Federal Court.

Related Articles: Deliberate Indifference , Corrections