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New core jail standards provide sheriffs and jail managers with much-needed guidance.

The 35-year-old Mackinac County Jail in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is typical for the region: Its design is outdated; it is difficult to maintain; it was last renovated 12 years ago; and it often houses more inmates than its 28-bed capacity should accommodate. Michigan counties have always looked to Michigan jail standards to measure the adequacy of jail facilities and operations. After hiring much-needed employees two years ago, Mackinac County found itself in full compliance with mandatory state jail standards, and officials thought the jail was in good shape.


This year Mackinac County learned that the scope and content of the state jail standards were inadequate. A portion of a 15-county regional jail feasibility study revealed that Michigan's current state standards do not address the majority of issues that comprise jail standards in other states. In fact, the state standards only address 24 percent of the issues that are addressed in the new national minimum jail standards.

National Minimum Jail Standards

The American Correctional Association continues to be a central resource for jail standards throughout the U.S. Working with two affiliate organizations, the National Sheriffs' Association (NSA) and the American Jail Association (AJA), national minimum standards for jails have been developed. A new type of standards for ACA, the core jail standards offer all jails a new tool to evaluate their facilities and operations. While ACA hopes that some jails will find these new standards to be a first step toward accreditation, the primary purpose of these standards is to elevate the practices of all jails.

According to a 2007 NIC report, Jail Standards and Inspection Programs: Resource and Implementation Guide, 32 states have some form of jail standards. But many states have only voluntary standards and some do not have any form of audit or inspection. And the states with mandatory minimum jail standards are not necessarily covering the full scope of minimum issues, such as the standards in Michigan. As a result, many, if not most, jails in the U.S. do not have adequate state-level standards that define minimum levels of operation and conditions.

The movement to develop national minimum jail standards started several years ago when ACA asked AJA and NSA to help develop the Performance-Based Standards for Adult Local Detention Facilities, Fourth Edition (ALDF), which was published by ACA in 2002. The ACA/AJA/NSA team that created the fourth edition also examined the outdated ACA standards for small jails. ACA asked the team to evaluate the status of the small jail standards and the team concluded that they should be discontinued. They found only a few ALDF standards that did not apply to small jails, and these were adapted for use in small jails in the ALDF standards revisions. The team urged ACA to develop a new resource for jails in the form of national minimum jail standards. These "core" jail standards would describe everything that a jail of any size should do to operate a constitutional jail.

ACA has been writing professional standards for jails, prisons, and many other correctional facilities and operations for three decades. The ACA standards include the basics that must be addressed in any operation, but always go above and beyond the minimums to describe the evolving requirements for a professional agency. ACA offers formal accreditation to the field, but only about 130 jails are currently accredited under the ALDF standards. Many jail managers look at the ALDF standards and conclude that it is too big of a step for their agency.

The development of minimum standards rather than professional standards was difficult for many proponents of ACA standards to accept. But after long discussions and many debates, the ACA Standards Committee decided to adopt such minimum standards, unanimously approving the core jail standards on Aug. 7, at this year's Congress of Correction in Nashville, Tenn. Later that day, the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections decided to offer certification for compliance with the core jail standards rather than full accreditation.

Core Jail Standards Describe the Basics

Many professionals contributed their time and talents to the development of the core jail standards during the past nine years. The team that developed the ALDF standards identified the need for such standards and made the first attempt to identify the "core" standards in 2001. A working group comprised of jail administrators and sheriffs worked on the standards in 2008. Another working group finished the development process in 2009. All of the participants in this process are identified in Figure 1. Morris Thigpen, director of the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), supported the 2008 and 2009 development activities. NIC Jails Division Chief Virginia Hutchinson participated in the 2009 meetings, as did NIC Correctional Program Specialist Jim Barbee.

The process was long, arduous and often contentious. It started with the ALDF standards as a base. Through a series of meetings, the minimum requirements were filleted out of the broader professional standards, leaving only those requirements that apply to every jail, and which could pose serious liability if compliance was not maintained. The drafters had access to a library of more than 7,000 jail and prison court decisions that helped find the point at which a minimum standard ended and a higher professional standard began. A case law reference report has been developed, identifying several federal court decisions that support each of the 136 core jail standards.


The new standards apply to jails of all sizes. During their development, many larger jails expressed a strong interest in the new standards and asked ACA to set no size limits for the application of the standards.

Using the New Core Jail Standards

When the final draft of the core jail standards was completed in May 2009, it was compared to current Michigan jail standards. Figure 2 shows that Michigan standards address less than 25 percent of the issues that are included in the core jail standards. When Mackinac County officials reviewed these findings, they became concerned about liability.

Field Testing the Core Jail Standards

In May 2009, ACA asked Mackinac County to field test the final draft of the core jail standards in order to provide insight to the ACA Standards Committee at an early August meeting. Although the short time frame for this field test was daunting, concerns about liability prompted the county to agree. It signed a contract with ACA and began the accreditation process. The contract specified accreditation rather than certification. The decision to offer certification for core jail standards was made by the Commission on Accreditation several weeks after the compliance audit was completed.

NIC provided assistance by sending David Parrish, former jail commander of the Hillsborough County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office, to Mackinac County to review preparations and identify deficiencies. His insight proved invaluable and his encouragement gave the sheriff and jail personnel the confidence to finish the process. Mackinac County also received assistance from the NIC Information Center, the U.S. Army (which provided sample policies and procedures), and others.
Figure 1. Participants in the Core Standards Development Process

Participants in the      4th      2008     2009 Working Group
Core Jail Standards      Edition  Working
Development Process,     ALDF     Group
2000 - 2009

Jim Barbee, Program                               X
Specialist National
Institute of

Jeffrey Heard,                                    X
Secretary Pennsylvania
Department of

John Bittick, Sheriff                 X
Monroe County (Ga.)
Sheriff's Office

Ron Budzinski, FAIA,                  X
President PSA-Dewberry,
Peoria, III.

Nancy Elmer, Regional        X
Clinical Programs
Manager Correctional
Medical Services,
Middleton, Mass.

Mark Fitzgibbons,                     X           X
Former Director
Beaufort County (S.C.)
Detention Center

Mark Flowers, Director,               X           X
Standards and
Department American
Alexandria, Va.

Jerry Frey, Standards        X
Compliance Supervisor
Hampden County (Mass.)
Sheriff's Department

Stanley Glanz, Sheriff
Tulsa County (Okla.)
Sheriffs Office

David Goad, Sheriff                               X
Alleghany County (Md.)
Sheriffs Office

James Gondles, Jr.,          X        X           X
Executive Director
Alexandria, Va.

Elizabeth Gondles,           X        X           X
Ph.D., President
Institute for Criminal
Justice Healthcare,
Arlington, Va.

David Haasenritter,                               X
Assistant Deputy,
Corrections Oversight
Army Review Board
Agency, Arlington, Va.

Jamie Haight, Chief,
Program Analysis
Section Federal Bureau
of Priaona, Washington,

Robert Hall, Captain                  X           X
Grand Traverse County

Sid Hamberlin, Captain                            X
Bonneville County
(Idaho) Sheriff's

Jim Hart, Chief of
Corrections Hamilton
County (Tenn.)
Sheriff's Office

Leslee Hunsicker,                     X           X
Health Care
Administrator American
Alexandria, Va.

Margo Hurse, Lieutenant                           X
Jackson County (Mo.)
Detention Center

Virginia Hutchinson,                              X
Chief NIC Jails
Division. Washington,

Steve Ingley. Former         X
Executive Director
American Jail
Hagerstown, Md.

Ted Kamatchus, Sheriff                            X
Marshall County (Iowa)
Seriff's Office

Newton Kendig, M.D.,         X        X           X
Assistant Director,
Health Services
Division Federel Bureau
of prisons, Washington,
D C.

Harley Lappin, Director      X                    Chair
Federal Bureau of
Prison, Washington,
D.C. Chair, ACA
Standards Committee

Lannette Linthicum,          X        X           X
M.D., Director, Health
Services Division Texas
Department of Criminal

John May, M.D., Chief        X        Chair       Vice Chair
Medical Officer Armor
Correctional Health
Services, Miami

Rod Miller, President,       X        X           X
CRS Inc. Gettysburg,

Sandra Mueller, Chief                 X
of Corrections Ocean
County' (N.J.)
Department of

David Parrish, Former                 X           Chair
Jail Commander
Hillsborough County
(Fla.) Sheriff's

Mike Pinson, Director                 X
of Corrections
Arlington County (Va.)
Sheriff's Office

Owen Quarnberg, Retired               X
Jail Administrator Utah
Sheriff's Association

Tom Rosazza, Consultant      X
Rosazza Associates,
Inc., Colorado Springs.

Gwyn Smith-Ingley,                    X           X
Executive Director
American Jail
Hagerstown, Md.

Blake Taylor. Division       X
Director, Inspections
and Operational Review
South Carolina
Department of

Everette VanHoesen,          X
Sheriff Kay County
(Okla.) Sheriff's

Bob Verdeyen, Former                  X
Director, Standards and
Accreditation American

David Ward, Captain
Frederick Co. (Md.)
Detention Center

Jeffrey Washington,          X        X           X
Deputy Executive
Director American
Alexandria, Va.

Hal Wilbur, Colonel          X
Broward County (Fla.)
Sheriff's Office

Figure 2. Comparison of Core Jail Standards to Michigan Minimum
Standards for Jails

Functional Area  Number of  Numbering     Percentage of
                 Core       Michigan      Core Standards
                 Standards  Counterparts  Addressed by

1. Safety            20         14             70%

2. Security          37          5           13.5%

3. Order              1          0              0%

4. Care              40         12             30%

5. Program and       12          0              0%

6. Justice           15          1            6.7%

7.                   10          0              0%
and Management

Total               136         33           24.3%

In late July, ACA sent auditor David Haasenritter, assistant deputy of corrections oversight for the Army Review Board Agency, to conduct a formal audit. ACA's Standards and Accreditation Department Director Mark Flowers also observed the audit. Haasenritter opened the audit by saying, "Just because this is a field test does not mean I will cut you any slack." And he did not. He made sure that everything was being done correctly. At the end of the two-day audit, it was clear that Mackinac County had made the grade.

Passing the Test

Mackinac County received accreditation from ACA at the congress in Nashville on Monday, Aug. 10. At the hearing on Sunday, Aug. 9, the five-member Commission on Accreditation panel praised the county and thanked staff for advancing the field by testing the standards on short notice. Mackinac County was the only field test site and was the first jail in the U.S. to receive accreditation under the new standards.

The standards were unanimously adopted the preceding Friday by the ACA Standards Committee. ACA's Executive Director James Gondles, Jr., told the committee that the new core jail standards will "take America's jails forward." Flowers agreed, suggesting that if one jail adopts even a few of the 138 standards "they will be better" and ACA may have "saved a life."

News of Mackinac County's success spread fast. Bill Page, risk manager for the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMRMA), was apprised of the new core jail standards less than an hour after ACA's Standards Committee adopted them. Page and his agency had provided financial assistance to Mackinac County in its quest for accreditation and will promote the new standards to all Michigan counties. Within a few days, the Michigan Sheriffs' Association (MSA) had scheduled time for Flowers to address all sheriffs at its conference in October.

Lessons Learned

The process was challenging, especially with the short time frame. Mackinac County found that most (but not all) operational practices complied with the core standards, but "protocols" (policies, procedures, post orders, curriculum, and other written directions for employees) were missing or incomplete in many instances. Jail personnel spent long hours developing new policies and procedures and revising existing protocols to ensure consistent compliant practices in the future.

The antiquated facility failed to comply with several of the core jail standards. These problems could not be solved with repairs or modest renovations; rather they would require new construction. At first officials thought these deficiencies would prevent the jail from being accredited, but ACA and NIC taught the county how to mitigate these shortcomings through operational practices. At the accreditation hearing the panel reviewed the county's proposed mitigations and found them acceptable.

Next Steps

For Mackinac County, the next step is to maintain full compliance with the core jail standards and to monitor compliance internally. Hopefully, the other 82 Michigan counties will take a hard look at the new standards and consider bringing their operations and facilities into compliance. MMRMA has pledged financial and technical support for these efforts.

MSA is exploring strategies that would organize a system of peer audits that would offer sheriffs and jail managers the opportunity to have their facilities and operations evaluated by an independent group of practitioners. ACA has expressed a willingness to train peer auditors and to possibly certify them so that their findings would be accepted by ACA as evidence of compliance for certification purpose. NIC is expected to provide technical assistance, as it has for many years.

A statewide system of peer audits in Michigan might resemble the system that has been developed in Florida that replaced state inspections, and the less formal systems developed in several other states that have voluntary standards. Mackinac County has learned from the pioneering efforts of others to develop a system that provides much-needed protection to Michigan counties. The core jail standards provide an important new resource for all jails and may also become a first step toward accreditation for some jails.

Scott Strait is sheriff of the Mackinac County Jail. Tim Ahlborn is chief corrections deputy for the Mackinac County Jail. For more information about the core jail standards, contact Mark Flowers, director of ACA's Standards and Accreditation Department, at or (703) 224-0070.
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Author:Strait, Scott; Ahlborn, Tim
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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