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Managing inmate behavior in jails.

The Jails Division of the National Institute of Corrections now offers a new training program titled Inmate Behavior Management, which focuses on the elements of a comprehensive plan to manage inmate behavior in jails. It is a 44-hour program designed for jurisdictional teams composed of the jail administrator, the person in charge of the security staff and the person in charge of the inmate classification system. Throughout the training program, participants have extensive opportunities to apply the concepts taught to case-study examples and to their own jail.

The Core of Jail Operations

This training program is based on the premise that managing inmate behavior is the core of jail operations and the basis for safety and security. Virtually every operational and management decision affects the jail's ability to manage inmate behavior. Decisions regarding staffing levels, staff hiring and retention, staff disciplinary actions, resource allocations, medical and food service, inmate programs, and inmate disciplinary and grievance procedures all affect the jail's ability to direct, supervise and influence inmate behavior.

Historically, U.S. jails have relied on physical containment to control inmates, to the virtual exclusion of supervision and behavior management. Although a physically secure building is essential, this alone cannot ensure the safety and security of inmates, staff or the community. Correctional staff have consistently seen that inmates, securely confined but not managed, are likely to behave violently and destructively.

On the other hand, the experience of podular direct-supervision jails during the past 25 years has demonstrated that when staff use effective supervision and management techniques, inmates will behave in a positive manner, and problems earlier thought to be inherent to jails--vandalism, assaults and escapes--are dramatically reduced. Podular direct supervision is a unique type of jail that combines a physical plant design with an inmate management philosophy to achieve positive inmate behavior and, therefore, better ensure safety and security. Although many local jurisdictions that have built new jails in the past 25 years have opted for podular direct supervision, most U.S. jails were built in the era when the primary focus was on physical containment and inmate management was given little to no consideration. Nonetheless, jail professionals now realize that all jails, regardless of design, are responsible for managing inmate behavior to ensure safety and security. In recognition of this, the Jails Division has identified six elements that are critical to managing inmate behavior in any type of jail.

Elements of Inmate Behavior Management

Assessing Risks and Needs. All jails should assess the risks and needs each inmate presents upon arrival at the jail, upon admittance to the booking room, upon admittance to the jail, and periodically during his or her stay to ensure critical inmate management information is accurate and current. The risk and needs assessment must be objective, systematic and well documented. An effective assessment system is reliable (different staff using the same system will get the same result for the same inmate), valid (accurately predicts the inmate's risk level and needs), equitable (applied in the same way for each inmate), and straightforward (easily understood and used by staff). The information derived from each risk and needs assessment provides the foundation for all management decisions related to the inmate. The Inmate Behavior Management program presents the rationale for risk and need assessment, the attributes of an effective assessment and classification system, the points at which inmates should be assessed, assessment criteria and commonly used assessment tools.

Assigning Inmates to Housing. Inmates should be assigned to housing based on the security risk they present, the level of supervision they require, their service and program needs, and legal requirements for separating certain categories of inmates. The Inmate Behavior Management program explores the considerations in assigning inmates to housing and the development of a flexible housing plan that takes into account the number of beds in the jail, the configuration of housing units, the level of physical security in each housing unit, classification of inmates held in the jail, and the number of inmates within each classification.

Meeting Inmates' Basic Needs. Basic needs fall into three primary categories: physical, safety and social needs. Well-established case law requires jails to meet these basic needs, and failure to do so may result in costly litigation. However, the jail's ability to manage inmate behavior is also dependent on meeting these needs. If the jail does not provide for these needs, the inmates will find ways to meet them on their own terms, usually in a manner that involves negative and unsafe behavior. The Inmate Behavior Management program discusses the relationship between meeting basic needs and inmate behavior. It allows participants to identify common negative inmate behaviors, the potential relationship to basic needs, and strategies for meeting those needs and eliminating the undesired behavior.

Defining and Conveying Expectations for Inmate Behavior. The experience of podular direct-supervision jails has demonstrated that jail staff can influence inmates to behave positively, by clearing defining, setting and conveying high expectations for behavior and holding inmates accountable for meeting those expectations. The Inmate Behavior Management program presents the relationship between staff expectations and inmate behavior, direct and subtle methods of conveying expectations, and formal and informal methods of holding inmates accountable for meeting expectations.

Supervising Inmates. Effective supervision requires that staff regularly interact with inmates. The clear purpose of this is to obtain positive inmate behavior and compliance with behavior standards. For staff to safely and effectively interact with inmates, the jail must have implemented the first four elements of the Inmate Behavior Management program. When staff effectively supervise inmates, they are able to detect and resolve small problems before they become crises, hold inmates accountable for their actions and influence inmates to behave positively.

The Inmate Behavior Management program explores the nature and purpose of the interaction between staff and inmates, and the skills staff need to effectively interact with and supervise inmates. It also discusses common barriers to staff-inmate interaction and how jails can overcome them. These barriers include the physical plant, staffing levels and staff behavior.

Keeping Inmates Productively Occupied. When jails provide structured activities for inmates, they control the nature of the activity and ensure the activity contributes to the effective management of inmate behavior. If the jail does not provide opportunities for inmates to engage in productive activities, inmates will find ways to fill their time, often through activities that are contrary to a jail's mission of providing a safe and secure environment. The Inmate Behavior Management program discusses the relationship between productive activities and inmate behavior. Participants explore a wide range of productive activities, most of which require no or few additional resources.

Behavior Management Plan Implementation

Many jails might have one or more of these elements in place; however, to effectively manage inmate behavior, the jail should implement all six elements and ensure they are integrated into a comprehensive inmate management plan. Plan implementation and success requires:

* Goals for improving inmate behavior, such as a reduction in vandalism, violence or rule violations, or an improvement in housing unit sanitation;

* A method of measuring goal achievement;

* Clear directives, in the form of written policies and procedures;

* Adequate staffing levels;

* Staff training;

* Supervision of staff to ensure the plan is implemented according to policies and procedures;

* Systematic documentation and record-keeping of all activities related to inmate behavior management; and

* A system of communication among staff about information that affects inmate behavior management.

The implementation and success of the behavior management plan also greatly depends on the demonstrated commitment and active leadership of the jail administrator. The Inmate Behavior Management program presents information on implementing the plan, monitoring it for correct implementation and assessing if the plan is achieving the jail's goals for improved inmate behavior.

Additional information on the program and application forms can be found in NIC's Annual Service Plan or on NIC's Web site at

Virginia Hutchinson is the chief of the National Institute of Corrections Jails Division in Longmont, Colo. She can be reached at 1-800-995-6429, ext. 140, or
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Title Annotation:NIC Update
Author:Hutchinson, Virginia
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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