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Home / Case Digests / 01-1447 Estate of James H. Boncher v. Brown County, et al.

01-1447 Estate of James H. Boncher v. Brown County, et al.

“The plaintiffs emphasize the lack of training of the intake officers and the inadequacy of the checklist that they used in interviewing newly booked-in prisoners to determine whether they are suicide risks. The officers had only the most general training in recognizing a suicide risk, and this made them heavily dependent on the form. The form is poor, because while it contains a box to check if the prisoner has mental or emotional problems, the only follow-up question is, has he ever attempted suicide? Missing is any recognition of the possibility that the inmate might be about to make his first attempt (presumably not all those jail suicides that we’ve mentioned are of previous attempters, though we have no information on the point) and that it might succeed. One would think at a minimum that the inmate who admitted to mental or emotional problems would be asked what they were. If he answered that he suffered from clinical depression, that would alert the officers to a possible suicide risk, since clinical depression is a significant risk factor for suicide.

“The plaintiff is left to argue that the defendants exhibited deliberate indifference to suicide risk by failing to train the intake officers or adopt a better intake questionnaire. It is not clear what good the better training would have done, at least in this case; the basic judgment the intake officers had to make was whether Boncher was joking, and that is not a judgment likely to be much assisted by special training. Cf. Estate of Novack ex rel. Turbin v. County of Wood, supra, 226 F.3d at 532; Horn by Parks v. Madison County Fiscal Court, supra, 22 F.3d at 661. The form is defective, but because of a rather subtle problem – the failure to specify probing follow-up questions for inmates who indicate mental or emotional problems. That is a serious deficiency and one that ought to be corrected, if only to shield the defendants from liability for common-law negligence in suits under state law. But like other courts to consider the issue, we don’t see how such a slip, at worst careless, could be proof evidence of something much worse, a deliberate failure to deal with a known high risk of death.”


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Randa, J., Posner, J.

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