Kane GOP sheriff hopefuls differ on jail suicide prevention
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Two Republican candidates for Kane County Sheriff disagree on how suicides can be prevented at the county jail, where two inmates have killed themselves within the past two years.
Kevin Williams and Don Kramer, both Geneva residents, face each other in the March 17 primary to see who will represent the GOP in the November general election.
Williams, a lieutenant and 22-year veteran of the sheriff's department, lost the 2006 general election to Sheriff Pat Perez, a Democrat. Kramer retired in 2009 from the sheriff's department also with the rank of lieutenant. He lost the 2010 general election to Perez, who is not seeking another term.
Kramer said better training could help prevent suicides. He pointed to a past partnership with Suicide Prevention Services of Batavia to help train corrections officers at the jail.
"More often than not, (suicide) is a predictable event. (Through) good training, the officers should be perceptive to the personalities and things the inmates are doing on a daily basis," Kramer said.
Kramer, 55, says one effective approach is the direct supervision model, in which an officer watches over and interacts with a set of 32 inmates, a size similar to a school classroom.
"Suicide screams out at you if you know what you're looking for," Kramer said. "You don't necessarily need a rope and a high place to hang yourself from. You can kill yourself without doing that. So really it goes back to the training of the officers to observe a person and determine what their psychological profile is."
Williams, 54, said he would seek input from mental health groups to help design the unfinished, upper towers at the jail.
"Ask them which they think would be the best way to build up these housing units in order to protect inmates with mental issues, in order to hopefully help them get integrated back into society," he said.
Williams agreed that training is important, but added that preventing suicides is a staffing issue as well. However, he is not prepared to go to the county board and ask for more correctional officers right now.
"The bottom line is it's a manpower issue," he said. "We'd love to be proactive, but right now with the manpower, we're more reactive than anything. Anything's possible if you have the staff to do it."
Keith Renfro Jr., 20, of Minnesota, strangled himself with a shirt after a May 2012 arrest in Gilberts in which police said he barged into a home, saying someone was chasing him and trying to kill him.
Terry A. Hart, 52, of South Elgin, hanged herself in August. She was awaiting sentencing for a felony domestic disturbance at her home.
Renfro was on suicide watch, where an inmate is checked on every 15 minutes; Hart was not on suicide watch and her cell was checked every half-hour.
The winner of the March election will represent the Republican party in the Nov. 4 general election and likely will face Democrat Willie Mayes, Sr., sergeant with the sheriff's department.
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