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Ohio county finds accreditation offers solutions for small jails.

When funding is limited, how can administrators of small jails meet their fundamental obligation to comply with constitutional minimums for inmate life, health and safery standards? As sheriff of Geauga County, Ohio, from 1981 until January 1993, I found that seeking and receiving ACA accreditation is the most effective strategy.

Two events during the past decade led the county to seek accreditation for its jail, which houses 46 inmates. At the time, we had no idea these events eventually would lead us to embrace ACA standards.

The first event was an inmate suicide in 1985. This regrettable event illustrated the jail's liability potential to the Board of County Commissioners, the sheriff's department's funding authority. It also prompted representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union to visit the facility and communicate their concerns to the board. The board could not escape the fact that liability posed a serious problem.

Second, the state jail inspector's relentless criticism of the jail created discord with the board during the '80s. The official inspects the jail annually and then meets with the board. After each annual meeting, the hostility between the two increased.

Fire and safety procedures, sight and sound separation between men and women, key/security control, minimum staffing levels, medical needs, maintenance, juvenile detention, telephone and commissary use, recreation and psychiatric services - these were but a few of the areas in which the inspector found flaws.

In 1988, the board members asked me how they could satisfy the inspector. By this time they were ready to consider anything. I had received information on accreditation from ACA and knew that meeting the state's jail standards and receiving accreditation were congruent. I advised them that if they wanted to please the state jail inspector, they should agree to pursue ACA accreditation. The board agreed to do so.

In January 1989, we took our first steps toward accreditation. For example, we named our chief deputy as accreditation manager, we briefed all county agencies and organizations about accreditation, we developed a public information plan and we reached an agreement to receive assistance from the National Institute of Corrections. We signed an accreditation contract in April 1989.

The audit team visited the jail Nov. 15-16, 1990. The accreditation hearing was held Jan. 13, 1991, and formal accreditation was awarded Jan. 14.

Accreditation climaxed a two-year commitment involving every employee in the county corrtections division. Throughout the process, we continually told employees that we could become the first small jail in the nation to be accredited under ACA's Small Jail Standards. This is exactly what happened.

The thought of being the first was a tremendous motivator. Throughout the accreditation process, employees dedicated themselves to becoming the best.

Accreditation's benefits exceeded our greatest expectations:

1. Invaluable professional contacts. There are shakers and movers in every professional area. Without a doubt, those in the accreditation network are the true corrections professionals. These contacts carried over after accreditation had been formally granted.

2. Increased staffing. Through our involvement in accreditation, we were able to show the board that our staffing level was low considering the jail's layout. Over a two-year period, the board funded the hiring of four more officers.

3. A lower potential for litigation. We explained to the board that if we improved our programming, courts would be less likely to focus solely on the number of square feet available per inmate. We added program such as religious services, mental health and educational services, drug and alcohol counseling, mental health counseling, GED tutoring, literacy tutoring through the public library and job training.

4. Better morale. We received an unexpected boost in morale. Dedication to duty and overall efficiency increased. Employees soon realized they were in control of their destiny. By participating, they developed into a cohesive team of corrections professionals.

Nothing could have prepared us for the positive results of accreditation. The sense of employee accomplishment and esprit de corps nourished by accreditation has continued. Accreditation has enhanced the morale of staff and inmates alike while minimizing costly court litigation.

Sometimes progress occurs in unexpected ways. This is true in everyday life, and it certainly is true in corrections, as Geauga County's experience with accreditation illustrates.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Todd, James C.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:Nightmare Abroad.
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