A Wisconsin Department of Corrections spokesperson said his agency is working to correct a shortcoming in filing prisoner mental
health reports by jails and his agency.
A law adopted by the Wisconsin Legislature in 1987 requires jails to report annually to the DOC the number of inmates committed to state or county treatment facilities under certain conditions, and their length of stay. The law also requires jails to report the number of prisoners committed under certain conditions who were treated with psychotropic drugs, their diagnosis and the types of drugs used. Additionally, the annual report is to include a general description of the mental health services available to prisoners at each jail.
The issue arose after an inmate contacted the News Republic with concerns about his mental health treatment at the jail. The DOC is now following up on concerns raised by his attorney. The News Republic requested copies of the last five annual reports submitted by several regional jails, including the Sauk County jail, as part of an investigative story about inmates' mental health care at the jail. John Dipko, public information director with the DOC, said Tuesday that those reports are not available because they generally are not submitted.
The Office of Detention Facilities, a DOC agency, is responsible for conducting annual jail inspections. If state inspectors request mental health treatment reports during their annual inspections, the information is relayed verbally, Dipko said.
"If things are in order and the office doesn't need additional information for its purposes, the issue of mental health services may get very little mention," Dipko said.
Sauk County jail Capt. Michael Hafemann said jail inspectors are well aware of Sauk County's programs and activities involving the mental health treatment of inmates. He said much of the information mentioned in the reporting requirement is exchanged throughout the year with regional inspectors.
"But that doesn't comply with this requirement," said Jeff Scott Olson, a Madison-based civil rights attorney with litigation experience in the area of mental health treatment in detention facilities. "It has to be a comprehensive report and include information about what the (prisoner's) length of stay and treatment was."
Olson said the law does not specifically say the report has to be in written format, but he said reporting such detailed information verbally would be "a horrible way to conduct business."
If officials are not paying close attention to mental health reporting requirements, "How close attention are they paying to the requirements that are centrally relevant to the health and welfare of inmates?" Olson said.
Olson said it is not clear who is responsible for the widespread noncompliance with the law.
"Everybody's responsible for complying with the statutes," he said. "Now, there's a lot of them, so sometimes we need help finding out what's on the law books. But counties have corporation counsels who are supposed to be experts in the laws governing their public officials."
Sauk County Corporation Counsel Todd Liebman was not available for comment this week. Dipko said state officials are working with county sheriffs to address the issue.
Department revises policy Friday
Through an open records request this month, the News Republic found record-keeping issues regarding the health care of prisoners in the Sauk County jail.
Sauk County Sheriff's Department policy requires annual meetings between the jail administrator, jail nurses and the medical director, a physician provided through the county's contract with a private company. Policy documents require that a person designated by the jail administrator will take minutes during those meetings and the minutes will be maintained in the nursing supervisor's office.
The News Republic requested the minutes from recent meetings, but officials said minutes are not taken.
"It's generally (the nursing director), myself and the doctor, and we've just never felt the need to take minutes," Hafemann said in a July 7 interview.
On Friday, he said the sheriff's department would have to change the policy, because he doesn't think that taking minutes is necessary.
"Items we have discussed are already documented in a myriad of medical files," Hafemann said in an e-mail Friday.
The department revised its policy Friday afternoon to eliminate the requirement of keeping minutes.
Hafemann said earlier this month that no major problems have surfaced during previous meetings, which he said occur at least once a year.
The News Republic also requested the last five annual reports submitted by the nursing director to the jail administrator, sheriff and medical director. The reports are required by department policy and are to include the number of nursing visits and referrals, information on the productivity of the overall health care system, changes effected since the last report and a description of health environment factors which need improvement.
Hafemann said earlier that the reports are not kept by department officials after they are submitted, so they are not available for review.