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‘Excellence is a mandate:’ Acting sheriff says 15 of 17 jail recommendations in national report have been addressed

MILWAUKEE -- Acting Milwaukee County Sheriff Richard Schmidt held a news conference and tour of the Milwaukee County Jail on Thursday, April 5 for an invited group of elected, county and city officials -- and the media. This, after he received a report from the National Institute of Corrections, which performed an "operational assessment" of the jail at the request of the acting sheriff. He described Thursday's event as "an historic occasion," and said he was offering a "transparent transformation and unprecedented look at the Milwaukee County Jail."

Acting Sheriff Schmidt said after taking the acting sheriff position on Sept. 1, 2017, he was "immediately committed to transforming the Milwaukee County Jail into a model facility, and promised the public" he would bring in the NIC and have them review "our entire jail operation." A formal request was sent to the NIC, and then federal funding had to be raised for this analysis.

Between Feb. 28, 2018 and March 2, 2018, two representatives from the NIC came to the Milwaukee County Jail to evaluate the facility.

"The analysis was very thorough, beyond what I had anticipated. They did a phenomenal job. The NIC doesn't pull punches. They document areas that needed correction and what is working from an excellent standpoint," said Acting Sheriff Schmidt.

Acting Sheriff Schmidt said the final report was completed this week. Some of the challenges at the jail, according to this report, are staffing shortages, leading to excessive overtime, the opioid epidemic and inmates with mental health issues frequently acting out.

Milwaukee County Jail

Acting Milwaukee County Sheriff Richard Schmidt

"I stated publicly that I anticipated the NIC wouldn't find any major issues with the jail that impacted the well-being of inmates, and the report backs up that statement," said Acting Sheriff Schmidt.

He said the NIC report offered 17 recommendations, and 15 of those had been completed and implemented before the final report was released. He said the two not yet accomplished are: 1) a complete policy update and 2) a complete staffing analysis.

Acting Sheriff Schmidt said a review of jail policies is currently underway, and the complete staffing analysis, which will be done in cooperation with the NIC, will involve an outside entity which will come in "to make sure everything is being done exactly up to par with corrections."

Milwaukee County Jail

"Excellence is not an option. Excellence is a mandate. This is a very fragile population that deserves the best care possible," said Acting Sheriff Schmidt of jail operations.

Milwaukee County Jail

He offered the following Milwaukee County Jail statistics:

  • Of the approximately 900 jail inmates, 30 percent have serious mental health issues, and 30 percent have serious medical conditions.
  • Annually, 34,000 inmates come through the Milwaukee County Jail -- many who had been living on the street, many with serious drug and alcohol addictions.
  • 2,489 medical emergencies at the MCJ in 2017.
  • 726 inmates were transported to the hospital in 2017.
  • Zero violations in Dec. of 2017 when a state jail inspector came in to examine the jail completely.

Acting Sheriff Schmidt noted that a new inmate goes through various medical screenings before being admitted and assigned to the proper housing unit inside.

"Every second counts in response to a medical or mental health emergency. My statutory obligation is to properly care for every inmate. Jail is a pre-trial facility. The majority of these inmates are here on new cases. By law, every person here that is a pre-trial inmate is innocent until proven guilty. Every inmate must be treated with respect -- proper humanity, proper nutrition, nourishment and proper medical and mental health care," said Acting Sheriff Schmidt.

Milwaukee County Jail

Milwaukee County Jail

Milwaukee County Jail

Acting Sheriff Schmidt noted that a few months ago, he brought in new "wellness coordinators" -- described as three captains/sworn officers who are highly trained, who were brought in off the street.

"They spent their entire day, every shift going cell-to-cell, looking at vulnerable populations specifically and check on them -- in addition to the constant work by the medical and mental health staff and corrections officers who interact with inmates every day," Acting Sheriff Schmidt said.

He said that's a half-million dollars in resources in order to ensure that "issues are immediately addressed and inmates get the absolute best care possible." He noted that $16 million was spent on inmate healthcare in 2017.

Milwaukee County Jail

Milwaukee County Jail

"Every second counts in a response to a medical or mental health emergency," he said.

The Milwaukee County Jail tour that followed Acting Sheriff Schmidt's news conference began in the jail conference room and included the sally port entrance, pre-book room, medical screening area, booking room, 4D discipline pod, special mental health unit and 6D direct supervision pod.

Elected and county officials attending included:

  • Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele
  • Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb
  • Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Margaret Dunn
  • State Public Defender's Office Head Tom Reed
  • Milwaukee Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton
  • Milwaukee County Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern
  • Milwaukee County Law Enforcement Executive Association President Chief Michael Young

There was no contact with inmates during the tour.

Seven people have died in the jail since 2016.

Terrill Thomas after he was initially arrested

You'll recall, three Milwaukee County Jail staffers were charged in connection with the April 2016 death of Terrill Thomas, 38, jailed in connection with a shooting inside the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. He died as a result of dehydration -- his death ruled a homicide.

The accused are Commander Nancy Evans, Supervisor Kashka Meadors and Correctional Officer James Ramsey-Guy.

During an inquest into Thomas' death, a Milwaukee County jury unanimously recommended criminal charges against seven staffers at the Milwaukee County Jail. The district attorney determined the other four shouldn't be prosecuted.

Nancy Evans, Kashka Meadors, James Ramsey-Guy

An investigation revealed Thomas had water to his cell shut off as punishment for flooding it with a mattress in April 2016.

Armor Correctional Health, the company contracted to provide inmate health services at the jail was also charged with seven misdemeanor counts of "intentionally falsifying health care record" in the Thomas case.

Terrill Thomas

At the time of Thomas' death, the jail was overseen by conservative firebrand Sheriff David Clarke, who resigned in August to join a political action committee in support of President Donald Trump.