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Into the Millennium With Comprehensive Objective Prison Classification Systems.

The current generation of objective prison classification systems must be capable of more than risk assessment. Systems must be able to identify the needs of a diverse population with changing characteristics to provide appropriate programs, services and treatment opportunities, and prepare offenders for re-entry into the community. Addressing these emerging issues requires the development of comprehensive objective classification systems.

Comprehensive objective prison classification systems should be planned in the context of overall correctional management as a major part of the operation and administration of the agency and facilities. The issues of managing prisons, making better decisions, enabling correctional planning and monitoring, maintaining public safety, and promoting a safer environment for staff and inmates continue to be important.

Contemporary issues in prison classification will be major initiatives. Work will concentrate on classification of high-risk, disruptive offenders in maximum security, administrative segregation, close-management units and the general population, as well as special topics such as risk management of sexual predators and civil commitments.

Objective Prison Classification

Over the years, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) has provided assistance to many correctional agencies. Most adult prison systems developed and implemented objective classification systems during the 1980s through training, technical assistance and funding provided by NIC. Continuing through the 1990s, objective classification systems have enhanced the consistency, reliability and quality of the decisions that determine the types of facilities and levels of custody and security offenders require. Systematic, objective classification systems not only improve the decision-making processes for managing offenders, they also provide critical system-level information for allocating resources, projecting future populations and addressing legal issues.

Classification Systems

As many departments faced pressures from changes within their prison systems and continuing growth and differences in the offender population, they became increasingly concerned whether their classification systems still were valid and reliable tools for allocating resources and making custody and security decisions. Fortunately, newer technologies now are available to improve classification systems and integrate justice information systems for better management of offenders and overall operation of agencies.

The NIC Prisons Division has continued to receive requests for validation studies and staff training. Multiyear projects offered assistance to state departments of correction to evaluate, revise and improve prison classification systems in many states. Additional assistance has been provided to other correctional agencies through training and short-term technical assistance. A report that describes the work with seven of these systems now is available through the NIC Web site: The report also will be disseminated through new training programs.

Internal Classification

Another multiyear project focused on internal classification methods for assessing the needs and security requirements of inmates to make appropriate housing, work and program assignments in addition to reducing management problems within prison facilities. In the final phase of this project, which concluded in March, eight participating correctional agencies developed strategies and methodologies for pilot testing, implementation and monitoring. Technical assistance has helped these agencies design and pilot-test new internal classification systems prior to implementation. As an added benefit, each agency also worked with other prison systems to test different approaches to internal classification.

Classification of Women Offenders

Two cooperative agreements have been awarded to help correctional agencies develop classification systems that are valid and appropriate for women offenders and make other enhancements. With cooperative agreements, NIC has substantial involvement in work that is providing assistance to agencies through a contractor.

NIC is helping seven correctional agencies (prison systems) assess their existing classification practices and operational procedures to determine their impact on women offenders. NIC also will assess the current national status of the classification of women offenders by examining which state prison systems have initiated the development of classification instruments and operational procedures to address the requirements of this offender population.


A new seminar, "Objective Prison Classification: Current Issues in the Development of Comprehensive Systems," is being offered through the NIC Training Academy in Longmont, Colo. Following the seminar, technical assistance is offered for on-site work with correctional agencies that participate in the training. The first seminar was conducted in June with teams from eight states. Due to the overwhelming response, this seminar will be offered again in October.

Additional training is being offered to 15 to 20 state systems that have been assisted by NIC in the past three years on the development of comprehensive objective prison classification. The training seminar will focus on emerging issues in objective prison classification and will provide agencies that have made advancements in the development of their systems exposure to the national perspective.


NIC will continue to provide technical assistance to correctional agencies that will enable them to fully develop comprehensive objective classification systems.

NIC will have an exhibit at the American Correctional Association's 130th Congress of Correction with resource material on all of NIC's programs and services for the field of corrections.

Sammie Brown is a correctional program specialist for the NIC Prisons Division in Washington, D.C. She currently is on intergovernmental loan to NIC from the South Carolina Department of Corrections. She was director of classification from 1988 to 1996 and chief of classification from 1985 to 1988.
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Author:Brown, Sammie
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2000
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