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Police practice: public tours of local jails.

If citizens asked to tour their local jail, what would they be told? Every jurisdiction should consider its policies in view of this valid question. While employees at correctional facilities must ensure institutional security, they still can safely allow some access to members of the public.


Many jails provide specially organized tours for college students, civic groups, and special-interest organizations. However, not all facilities make provisions for the general public as a whole, thereby foregoing the many benefits that opening jails to citizens offers.


Officials at some facilities may cite concerns over security, liability, or negative public opinion as reasons for not allowing community members to tour jails. However, these visits seemingly would pose no such threats.

For instance, detention facilities already contain the most dangerous elements of society, so a citizen with a civic interest and no pending criminal matters likely would not jeopardize security. Further, many institutions already receive routine visits without incident by a variety of civilians affiliated with specific programs. And, a clearly defined tour plan, proper notices, and hold-harmless agreements greatly would reduce the potential for liability.(1) Finally, if jail administrators are concerned about negative public opinion, perhaps, this issue warrants an analysis to verify that the facility has adequate resources and performs appropriately.

Openness to the Public

Allowing citizens to obtain knowledge about jail operations is consistent with government standards of openness. Current laws and practices in many jurisdictions require public release of all records not specifically protected by legal authority. (2) The long-standing principle of transparency in government also provides citizens with access to nearly all sessions of federal, state, and local legislative bodies, as well as most types of court proceedings. All government tiers and entities should follow this principle.

The Freedom of Information Act requires federal departments to disclose general documents and records to any person. (3) Some state and local governments have gone even further. For instance, in 2004, California voters amended the state constitution to guarantee the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business. (4) Elected officials, academicians, public-policy experts, newspaper editors, civil libertarians, and watchdog groups all have praised such transparency.

Education of the Community

Law enforcement and corrections agencies enjoy certain protections because of the nature and sensitivity of their work, sometimes resulting in an organization's absence from the public conscience.

Not only do correctional facilities carry out important functions for society, including protection from criminals, care and custody of inmates, and a significant role in the administration of due process rights, but their high operational costs represent a significant burden on the taxpayer. A lack of public knowledge concerning jails can prove not only unfair for the taxpaying citizen but detrimental to the correctional facility.

For instance, an absence of awareness has resulted in most Americans feeling that life in jails does not affect them. (5) Unfortunately, what happens inside these facilities can spill out Verb 1. spill out - be disgorged; "The crowds spilled out into the streets"
spill over, pour out

pour, pullulate, swarm, teem, stream - move in large numbers; "people were pouring out of the theater"; "beggars pullulated in the plaza"
 in a variety of forms, such as violence on the streets, increased gang recruitment and criminal sophistication so·phis·ti·cate  
v. so·phis·ti·cat·ed, so·phis·ti·cat·ing, so·phis·ti·cates
1. To cause to become less natural, especially to make less naive and more worldly.

, wasted and unproductive lives, and, occasionally, lawsuits that cost taxpayers. (6)

Further, the expenses of correctional facilities--including operations and maintenance--impact citizens. For example, Santa Cruz County, California Santa Cruz County is a county located on the Pacific coast of the U.S. state of California, just south of the San Francisco Bay Area. The county forms the northern coast of the Monterey Bay. (Monterey County forms the southern coast). As of 2006 its population is 249,705. , operates a jail with an average daily population of 600 inmates, and the detention bureau budget is $18.7 million, approximately 5 percent of the general county budget. (7) In addition to operating costs operating costs nplgastos mpl operacionales , expensive lawsuits can stem from complaints, such as excessive force, overcrowding overcrowding

overcrowding of animal accommodation. Many countries now publish codes of practice which define what the appropriate volumetric allowances should be for each species of animal when they are housed indoors. Breaches of these codes is overcrowding.
, segregation policies, and inadequate medical care. And, eventually, most agencies need to build new jail facilities to increase capacity or to replace aging structures. The more the public understands the importance of properly functioning detention systems, the more likely they will support measures to improve, maintain, or replace them.

With so much at stake, perhaps, the time has come for correctional facilities to strive for more public awareness--consistent, of course, with the legitimate concerns about safety and security. Certainly, many aspects of jail operations e.g., blueprints and security procedures) require confidentiality because disclosing them would increase the possibility of escape, violence, or the introduction of contraband contraband, in international law, goods necessary or useful in the prosecution of war that a belligerent may lawfully seize from a neutral who is attempting to deliver them to the enemy. . However, this is not true of every area of operation, and those that will not become compromised by accessibility, thereby affecting the security of the institution, should be more open to the public.

Citizen Involvement

Generally, jails have improved in recent decades, largely due to regulatory efforts and professional correctional standards. But, despite the best intentions of the legislature, courts, and facility managers and employees, there are no guarantees that jails always will function as planned.

Regulatory agencies regulatory agency

Independent government commission charged by the legislature with setting and enforcing standards for specific industries in the private sector. The concept was invented by the U.S.
 play an important but limited role in the quality of jail operations. For instance, the California Correctional Standards Authority conducts biennial facility inspections but not routine investigations or oversight. (8) As another example, civil grand juries conduct annual inspections of the condition and management of public detention facilities but have only an advisory role. (9) In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, while such entities take part in assessing correctional systems, they cannot replace the benefits provided by genuine public interest. Although a handful of nonprofit organizations Nonprofit Organization

An association that is given tax-free status. Donations to a non-profit organization are often tax deductible as well.

Examples of non-profit organizations are charities, hospitals and schools.
, such as the American Civil Liberties Union American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), nonpartisan organization devoted to the preservation and extension of the basic rights set forth in the U.S. Constitution.  and Amnesty International Amnesty International (AI,) human-rights organization founded in 1961 by Englishman Peter Benenson; it campaigns internationally against the detention of prisoners of conscience, for the fair trial of political prisoners, to abolish the death penalty and torture of , exist that advocate for prisoner rights, these agencies have only limited impact. To make sure that correctional institutions operate effectively, increasing the number of available safeguards proves helpful.

To this end, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons recommended that jails allow public visits, stressing that not only could citizens learn about problems, as well as good practices, in facilities but tours could serve as informal monitoring mechanisms. Citizens do not have to feel sympathetic toward inmates to have an interest in a properly maintained and operated jail. They can serve their part--along with laws, court opinions, and the agency's policies and professionalism--in ensuring that minimally acceptable standards for correctional facilities exist and that they are enforced. Further, the presence of citizens could help to normalize normalize

to convert a set of data by, for example, converting them to logarithms or reciprocals so that their previous non-normal distribution is converted to a normal one.
 the custody environment by allowing community standards Community standards are local norms bounding acceptable conduct. Sometimes these standards can itemized in a list that states the community's values and sets guidelines for participation in the community.  to influence inmate behavior. (10) While officials may find it difficult to generate public interest in jails, they should make opportunities for education and involvement available.

TOURS IN SANTA CRUZ COUNTY Santa Cruz County is the name of two counties in the United States:
  • Santa Cruz County, Arizona, and
  • Santa Cruz County, California.

Structured Program

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office, in view of its commitment to community policing and openness with the community, began its public jail tour program in November 2006. Currently, the agency offers tours only to adults (not on probation or parole or with pending criminal matters), 10 participants at a time.

On the department's Web site, interested persons can review detailed information about the program.(11) After acknowledging the notices of risk and liability and agreeing to abide by To stand to; to adhere; to maintain.

See also: Abide
 all rules and guidelines, they can submit a request for a tour, along with identifying information, which allows for basic record checks. The agency later will notify them via e-mail of approval or denial.

To emphasize the safety and security of the participants and the facility, the department closely monitors these visits and diligently enforces its rules, which govern conduct, attire, and prohibited items. When visitors arrive at the scheduled time In rallying, the Scheduled Time of any crew is the time, calculated at the beginning of the event, that they should arrive at any given control. It is different from Due Time in that Due Time is dynamic, ie it can change throughout the event as competitors drop time; whereas , staff members check their identification and give them a waiver of liability waiver of liability Managed care A process in which a beneficiary signs an agreement with a hospital and/or health care provider to pay for certain medical services if the services being provided are found not to be medically necessary. Cf Advance beneficiary notice.  to review and sign that the agency retains. A correctional officer able to explain how the jail operates and what it is like to work there leads all tours, which last between 45 and 60 minutes and encompass all common areas throughout the facility except maximum-security housing.

Positive Results

Through the program, the agency has enjoyed the opportunity not only to educate citizens about the facility and its operations but to nurture positive relationships with the community at large. For instance, local media, including newspaper and television, have responded favorably to the program and to the department's openness and spirit of public service and have offered extended coverage to inform citizens about the tours.

Participants who have toured the jail have expressed surprise about the cleanliness Cleanliness
See also Orderliness.

Cleverness (See CUNNING.)


unkempt herself, demands cleanliness from others, especially children. [Ger. Folklore: Leach, 137]


continually “washes” itself.
 and order within the facility, as well as the professionalism and knowledge of the staff. Several citizens have expressed interest in corrections or related fields, such as correctional nursing or drug and alcohol abuse counseling.

The department also is forming closer relationships with area universities and hopes to eventually work with the academic community to draw on its resources to study relevant corrections issues, such as overcrowding strategies, alternatives to incarceration Confinement in a jail or prison; imprisonment.

Police officers and other law enforcement officers are authorized by federal, state, and local lawmakers to arrest and confine persons suspected of crimes. The judicial system is authorized to confine persons convicted of crimes.
, and justice and equity within the criminal justice system. Further, the sheriff plans to notify local college professors about the possibility of incorporating jail tours to add real-world experience to their curriculum. Besides receiving an educational opportunity, students who otherwise would be unfamiliar with corrections may consider a career in law enforcement.

Additionally, the agency has found that several professionals associated with the criminal justice system, including court support staff and members of community-based organizations who provide peripheral services to inmates, now have the opportunity to see how the jail functions. As a result, they have gained a greater understanding of the circumstances surrounding the inmates, many of whom they will deal with upon release.


Jails represent a part of society that is not necessarily at the forefront of the public conscience. Jurisdictions can help change that by allowing and encouraging tours of their facilities. Certainly, valid reasons exist to do so.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office has a successful program in place and has enjoyed many benefits. Such openness results in an educated, interested, and supportive community. Other jurisdictions should consider allowing tours of their facilities.


(1) Agencies should consult with legal counsel for advice and assistance concerning notices and waivers.

(2) Public disclosure laws vary among municipal, county, and state government agencies.

(3) For more information, see

(4) California Constitution The California Constitution is the document that establishes and describes the duties, powers, structure and function of the government of the U.S. state of California. The original constitution, adopted in November 1849 in the U.S.  Article 1, Section 3(b)(1) and California Government Code 6250.

(5) For more information, see

(6) For more information, see

(7) County of Santa Cruz, California Santa Cruz is the county seat and largest city of Santa Cruz County, California, United States.

As of the 2000 U.S. Census, Santa Cruz had a total population of 54,593.
, Detention and Correction Budget, Fiscal Year 2005-2006.

(8) California Penal Code The California Penal Code forms the basis for the application of criminal law in the American state of California. Organization
The code is divided into Parts 1 and 2, which each contain "titles," some of these being subdivided into "chapters," with "sections" comprising
 Section 6031.

(9)California Penal Code Section 919.

(10) Supra A relational DBMS from Cincom Systems, Inc., Cincinnati, OH ( that runs on IBM mainframes and VAXs. It includes a query language and a program that automates the database design process.  note 6.

(11)For more information, see

RELATED ARTICLE: Example of Jail Tour Guidelines

For eligibility, visitors must--

* be at least 18 years old;

* possess government-issued photo identification; and

* not be on parole or probation; have an arrest warrant or a pending criminal matter; or be a sex, arson, gang, or narcotics narcotics n. 1) techinically, drugs which dull the senses. 2) a popular generic term for drugs which cannot be legally possessed, sold, or transported except for medicinal uses for which a physician or dentist's prescription is required.  registrant An individual or organization that signs up (registers) for a training class or service. See domain name registrar. .

Appropriate conduct is required; visitors must--

* follow all instructions given by correctional officers;

* not communicate with or pass an item to any inmate;

* wear a visitor badge at all times in the facility;

* remain with the tour group at all times;

* not touch any equipment; and

* not be under the influence of illegal drugs, alcohol, or judgment-impairing medication.

All visitors are subject to search before entrance and must not possess any prohibited items, which include--

* weapons of any kind, including firearms, ammunition, knives, or chemical sprays;

* tools, explosives, flammables, or chemicals;

* illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco, matches, or lighters;

* electronic devices, such as cell phones, cameras, pagers, and audio or video recorders; and

* keys, purses, backpacks, bags, or bulky items.

Visitors must dress appropriately and not display--

* clothing, accessories, or tattoos that contain images, words, or symbols that are offensive, obscene, gang or hate related, distracting, or disruptive;

* transparent or revealing garments;

* shorts or sandals;

* spaghetti strap A spaghetti strap is a very thin shoulder strap used in clothing, such as camisoles, cocktail dresses, and evening gowns, so-named for its resemblance to the thin pasta strings called spaghetti. , strapless strap·less  
Having no strap or straps, as a dress or an undergarment.

A garment having no strap or straps.

, halter halter

the simplest form of restraint for the head of farm animals. Comprises a poll strap, a nose band and a halter shank that brings the ends of the nose band together under the mandible. Made of leather or cotton or manila rope.
, midriff midriff /mid·riff/ (-rif) the diaphragm; the region between the breast and waistline.

See diaphragm.
, tube, or tank tops; slingshot (networking, business, tool, product, protocol) Slingshot - CSK Software's real time financial server for the Internet.

Slingshot allows the delivery of real time market data across the Internet and private intranets quickly, cheaply and securely.
 shirts; or short dresses or skirts; or

* clothing or accessories with spikes, razor blades ra·zor·blade also ra·zor blade  
A thin sharp-edged piece of steel that can be fitted into a razor.

razor blade nhoja de afeitar

razor blade 
, or other sharp objects.

Lieutenant Wilson serves with the Santa Cruz County, California, Sheriff's Office.
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Article Details
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Author:Wilson, Craig R.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2008
Previous Article:The art of managing up.
Next Article:Leading from the middle.

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