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BECOMING A Safer Jail: Measurable Indicators.

Measuring performance in a jail is a novel idea. However, relating what performance is and how it can be quantified to validate officer safety and wellness is a challenge. Rather than discuss the latest in less-lethal technologies or personal alarm systems, this article will offer guidelines on how to assess the extent of a jail's safety.

Because corrections professionals do not make widgets, there is no corporate measuring tool to indicate to a board of directors that 100,000 more widgets were manufactured successfully this fiscal year. Instead, correctional staff deal in human lives and the measuring tools often are population counts and incidents of inmate violence. The "board of directors" consists of the sheriffs, correctional administrators, governors or county commissioners and ultimately, the public they protect.

So, the issue for those who manage America's jails is: How can staff performance be validated? The premise behind good perimeter security is knowledge, control and prevention. If trend indicators are observed, then the focus can be on staff safety.

Although an absence of fights in a particular jail cannot be guaranteed, correctional officers from the Norfolk County Sheriff's Office in Dedham, Mass., often experience fewer than two inmate-on-staff assaults per year because the correctional officers control the environment in which they work and performance indicators are tracked and measured. In reality, most correctional officers spend more time during their years of service in a jail or prison than many of the inmates they supervise. If a perspective that implies that evaluative indicators are useful tools is adopted in a facility's security planning, the results should be communicated to staff.

The Corrections Yearbook documented an average of 35 assaults on jail staff during 1998. So, to quantify officer safety, is a jail or prison safe when fewer than two assaults are reported per year? Are correctional officers in a better state of "wellness" if these data are shared with them?

To those who are operating in a world of direct supervision, the notion of officer safety reigns supreme. Most reliable data gathered in correctional environments are jealously guarded. Other data are unconfirmed by empirical principles and deemed unreliable to put in print. Even though the world of direct supervision is only 22 years old, the commitment to assure safety is critical. For correctional officers to accept ownership of operations, their work must be as safe as possible. Also, how well the principles of direct supervision -- effective control, supervision and communications; competent staff; staff and inmate safety; manageable and costeffective operations; classification and orientation; justice and fairness; and ownership of operations -- affect daily operations must continually be validated.

Currently, for several reasons, little empirical data about jail and prison performance are funded and published. Most academicians ignore what corrections professionals do and reporters seldom publish how safely a jail or prison is managed. Also, inmates do not litigate due to a lack of violence, so traditional inquiries into unsafe conditions are lacking.

Evaluating and Validating Performance

Managing safer facilities starts with the following essential elements of a jail's security programming:

* Disciplinary systems;

* Special management populations;

* Incidents of force;

* Inmate assaults;

* Contraband searches;

* Drug use;

* Inmate grievances; and

* Fire safety.

These key indicators are not new: They were discussed in 1993 in research funded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. They are used to manage the 500-bed Norfolk County Correctional Center. They also are not nestled among the original trio of supposedly "good old" jail management tools -- how many inmates escaped, how many inmates and officers were injured, and how many died by fire or violence -- encountered by those who have been employed in the profession during the past two decades. Additionally, the days of staff counting the number of scars, wounds and shanks they accumulate each year are over.

Data should be collected by jail and prison administrators conforming to established policy and auditing compliance. So what may start with an adult local detention facility standard may reap future benefits in becoming a barometer of jail and staff safety and wellness. Realistic measures account for the daily activities of justice agencies and for the constraints under which they operate. With the resources provided, there is an obligation to keep offenders from misbehaving and ensure that they, as well as staff, are safe.

Disciplinary systems. Usually when an inmate feels threatened, he or she will construct a weapon for protection or for prey. In some jails and prisons, staff may carry personal weapons for protection, such as knives, or resort to wanting to wear, as part of standard-issue, such item as batons and oleo-resin capsicum in housing unit posts.

Corrections officials should track the length of stay for each inmate entering the jail or prison. This factor can differ widely from state to state for local jails -- from Massachusetts, in which inmates may be incarcerated for up to two and one-half years, to South Carolina, in which they are incarcerated 90 days or less. Nationally, the average sentence for violent offenders released in 1996 was 85 months, of which approximately 45 months were served, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics.

Special management populations. Examining how special management populations are defined in a particular facility is important. After refining the labels of how the agency defines who are the protective custody inmates and who are the administrative segregation inmates, it may take the census and divide by the average daily population. If the sum exceeds 10 percent of the average total population, it is time to redefine the population. A general rule of thumb for a safe jail or prison is that staff are managing the facility safely when 10 percent or less of the average daily population is classified as special management. Staff are in control because inmates are aware of the consequences of positive and negative behavior. Undeniably, discipline and classification help quantify a safe jail.

Incidence of force. Also, examine use of force incidents. Determine how many occur during each shift, what time they occur, and who the reporting officers or shift commanders are, Examine the agency's statutory authority to use force, as well as reporting, training and recording force policies. A more violent society does not justify exorbitant escalations of force. Force incidents may be the symptom of a greater problem. If the younger correctional officers on the swing shift commit more documented force incidents than the older day shift, is it a problem or the symptom of a problem?

Inmate assaults. Another salient factor measured is the incidence of assault. Keeping officers and inmates safe may assist administrators in identifying staff occurrence zones, housing unit locations, incident times and the classification level of inmates involved in altercations. As stated earlier, a low incidence of assault can be a predictor of internal staff and officer safety in a jail or prison. Tracking also can be used to validate whether a classification strategy is working. If the classification objective is to know the inmates with whom the correctional officers are dealing daily, a measure of officer safety is enhanced by accounting for all assault incidents and sharing that information with staff. Further, it is a disservice to correctional officers not to record the atypical inmate-to-inmate simple assaults in the same category as the bloody brawls. The key is, once data are compiled, they should be shared with the correctional officers.

Contraband searches. It is hoped the prediction base is continued by accumulating more data on what correctional officers are discovering as part of fulfilling the facility's annual search plan. An obvious component of the reasoning behind conducting searches is to uncover contraband and gather intelligence. Controlling contraband helps staff determine how well inmates follow facility rules, but also is important in showing administrators how well staff enforce those same rules. Allowing for variations in the nature of their populations, it seems proper to evaluate the ability of administrators to enforce compliance. So if there is no annual search plan, develop a policy, implement the training needed to accomplish the goal, and for good measure, start with narcotics-trained canines to assist in detecting whether a jail or prison has more narcotics inside its perimeter than even the outside community.

Drug use. The positives far outweigh the negatives. Jails and prisons, for the most part, are artificial environments for those inmates who live a part of their lives in them. A safe jail is a clean and sober jail. If 57 percent of state inmates reported using drugs in the month before their incarceration, a key component of running a safer jail should be a drug surveillance program. A regular program of preapproved visitor screening and an annual search plan that incorporates the use of monthly canine searches, urinalysis and planned weekly searches will do wonders for inmate and officer safety. Record searches in a search log and use it for future planning. To those managing smoke-free jails and prisons, the detection of tobacco products rather than narcotics can be viewed as a sign of uncompromised officer safety because inmates are directing their energy toward contraband tobacco products rather than narcotics.

Inmate grievances. Tracking inmate grievances also is important. Inmates choose to use internal grievance systems in several ways, including to request remedy or redress of an issue or incident they find in conflict with policy or procedure, and to document that they have attempted administratively to pursue an internal remedy prior to initiating litigation. In deference to the world of direct supervision, tracking grievances is another indicator of whether correctional officers are communicating freely with the inmates they supervise. Many grievances attributable to a specific policy may be mediated by determining which officers are providing inmates the answers to the questions. As often as inmates play one another, they will play one officer against another and one shift against another shift.

Grievance tracking indicates who is in control and identifies the symptoms of potential problems in the facility. It also provides correctional officers with a measure of empowerment. However, this does not indicate that a lack of grievances means there is no cause for concern. In fact, it means staff should worry more. Most inmates are selfish by nature of their incarceration, and given the opportunity, they will whine about items they feel are unfair. Tracking grievances provides insight into whether population density and the lack of privacy contribute to officer safety issues. Implementing an inmate grievance tracking tool and sharing the database with staff are proactive opportunities that are virtually free. Acknowledging that most grievances are solved by well-trained correctional officers provided with the necessary resources allows scarce resources to be focused on problem areas identified by the complainants.

Fire safety. The last concern is how to measure the use of fire safety programs inclusive of fire drills for inmates and staff. With the trend being defend-in-place, in which responding officers first evaluate the situation to determine if there is heat, smoke or flames, before evacuating inmates, rather than live evacuation to outside secure perimeters, the challenge comes in how frequently, at what time and on what shift the agency conducts live fire evacuation drills. If inmates are expected to follow staff orders in emergency situations, such as lockdowns and other critical incident occurrences, the expectations should be practiced by performing frequent fire drills. Demands for documentation require drills to be spread across each shift in a facility. Also, equity in labor and in perceived control also demands that fire drills are initiated during each shift. In some facilities, opening a cell door after 2 a.m. can bring trepidation to the shift commanders because it is likely that staff are at a bare-bo nes minimum. However, what will be done in the case of a fire during the early morning hours? Will inmates be left to their own devices after gang-releasing the doors to the range? Or will there be an orderly evacuation in the affected area to the primary fire exit without incident?

Most of the facilities built during the past decade have fire systems that, upon detection of smoke in the ducts, automatically reverse, shut down air intake and begin discharging smoke through the ventilation systems to the outside. How often is the duct detection and smoke ejector system tested by using live smoke in a housing unit?

Albeit, some may cry "wolf" because there are too many fire drills, it is better to be safe and it is a test of control for correctional officers, during which time there are more than 70 inmates listening to their every word. It also is a test of procedure for correctional officers as well as civilian staff.


As stated earlier, this article attempts to share some simple yet important validation factors that if measured and communicated, will make the environment safer for both staff and inmates. Actions are the direct result of having a well-trained professional group of correctional officers accepting ownership for knowing what to do. Data can be manipulated, but actions cannot. When staff have a say in knowing how safe the environment in which they spend the majority of their own lives is or can be, the end result can be the self-fulfillment of not only believing, but in living that reality.


Bennet, William J. 1999. The index of leading cultural indicators: American society at the end of the 20th century. New York: Broadway Books.

The Corrections Yearbook. Jails. 1999. Middletown, Conn.: Camp and Camp, Criminal Justice Institute.

Dilulio, John Jr. 1993. Rethinking the criminal justice system. Discussion paper from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Princeton Project, October.

Dilulio, John J. Jr. 1999. Against mandatory minimums. National Review. 17 May.

Livingstone, J. Sterling. 1988. Pygmalion in management. Harvard Business Review, September/October: 121-130.

Logan, Charles. 1993. Criminal justice performance measures for prisons. Discussion paper from the BJS-Princeton Project. (October).

Logan, Charles. 1993. Prison performance under the confinement model. Discussion paper from the BJS-Princeton Project. (October).

Newcomb, Walter. 1989. Basic security program. American Jail Association Job Operation Bulletin, 1(7):1.

U.S. Department of Justice Statistics. 1999. Truth in sentencing in state prisons. (April).
Norfolk County Sheriff's Office FY 2000 Inmate Grievances 107 total
grievances logged

Lost Property [22] 20%
Mall [16] 15%
Program Access [8] 7%
Commissary [11] 10%
Medical Care [5] 5%
Food Services [5] 5%
Laundry [3] 3%
Staff Harasament [5] 5%
Law Library [3] 3%
Telephones [1] 1%
Co-Pay Programs [10] 9%
Visit Times [2] 2%
Security Policies [16] 15%

Note: Table made from pie chart
Norfolk County Sheriff's Office Use-of-Force Incidents July 1, 2000 -
June 30, 2001

Assigned Shifts Number of Incidents

 0700-1515 1500-2315 2300-0715

July 0 1 0
Aug 0 1 1
Sept 0 1
Oct 0 1 0
Nov 1 3 1
Dec 0 2 0
Jan 0 1 1
Feb 0 1
March 0 1
April 0 2 1
May 0 1 0
June 0 1 0

Note: Table made from bar graph
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Perroncello, Peter E.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Previous Article:CORRECTIONAL EMPLOYEE Stress & Strain.
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