By Chris Fox, Austin Bureau Chief | 1080 KRLD

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AUSTIN (CBSDFW) – The State House County Affairs committee hearing on the issue is a response to the apparent suicide of Sandra Bland in a Waller County jail this summer.  Fiscal year 2015 saw 33 suicides in County jails, which is up from 22 a year ago. Brandon Wood, the Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards told lawmakers there was not any one thing that we can point to and say this is the problem, this is the issue right then and there. That’s why we had such a spike.

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The Commission on Jail Standards has identified an outdated intake screening form one of the potential reason for the trouble identifying those who are mentally ill. The previous form has been in existence since 2000. Wood says the new revised form will be more user-friendly. “It basically removes a great deal of the objectivity. The hope is to have the revised form out by November of this year.”

According to Wood, their tight budget makes it difficult to add staff or set up more cameras in the jail. Wood says cameras make a good tool to review the situation after the fact. “The problem is that you still need more manpower to watch them as one can easily become overburdened trying to watch 24 cameras at a time.”

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The tight budget has also forced the Commission to come up with more creative ways to insure inmate safety. Wood says they are currently working on a prisoner peer supervision plan. “I mean possibly identifying inmates that are trustees; possibly provide them with a minimal amount of training and have them watch the other inmates. They’re sitting in there already and most people do not want to see another individual take their life.”

State House Committee Chair Garnet Coleman stated at the beginning of the hearing their objective was to review recommendations from County Jail officials to develop policies to better identify and assist the mentally ill and reduce the number of suicides.

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