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The changing role of local jails.

Although jails date back many centuries, they were not generally included under the broader umbrella of corrections until the 1960s. Once this happened, jails were quickly identified as the least developed correctional component.

Indeed, when the National Institute of Corrections was authorized nearly 20 years ago, one of its advisory board's first acts was to focus attention on improving conditions in the nation's jails. The creation of the NIC Jail Center in 1977 marked the first time federal funding was targeted. specifically to solving the many problems in the nearly 3,400 jails throughout the country.

At the same time, the "hands-off" doctrine of the courts all but disappeared in the 1970s, and federal courts increased their involvement in conditions of confinement cases. In addition, the Commission on Accreditation, established primarily through the efforts of ACA, began developing standards for adult local detention facilities. Meanwhile, the American Medical Association was sponsoring a standards development and accreditation effort for health care in jails and other professional associations were focusing attention on jail issues.

Jail design and management also was re-examined after the Federal Bureau of Prisons adapted its unit management concept to the design and operation of its Metropolitan Correctional Centers in New York, Chicago and San Diego in the late '70s. This concept, originally referred to as "new generation jails," began having a significant impact on jail design and inmate management practices after being successfully adopted in 1981 by Contra Costa County, Calif.

The '70s and '80s were a period of marked improvement in jail design, management and operation. Jail officer training became more widespread, and the professionalization of jail operations has been a continuing phenomenon. Unfortunately, the scope and magnitude of many of these achievements was often offset or over-shadowed by the accelerated increases in jail commitments and average daily population that began in the mid-'70s and continues today.

Crowding became a major issue for almost all larger jails, draining resources and stifling many program initiatives. Throughout the '80s, jurisdictions battled the symptom--crowding --with only marginal success while the underlying causes and conditions went unchecked. Jail crowding was exacerbated in several states when legislation to ease state prison burdens resulted in increased population pressures at the local level. In a few of the harder hit states, some noted that prisons were becoming more like jails and vice versa.

What was apparent to a few in the '70s was becoming more apparent to many by the mid-'80s. The criminal justice systems in local jurisdictions could not continue to do business as usual. While local jails were not the cause of the problem, they served to bring urgent problems into focus.

As a result, the focus of improvement efforts is shifting from operational issues to discussions of broader criminal justice policy and the appropriate role of the various system components, including jails. Another characteristic of local corrections today is the increasing use of networking, information sharing and technology transfer. ACA and other professional organizations have played a key role in this significant development.

The articles in this issue of Corrections Today do not focus on the planning and design successes or operational achievements of the individual facilities featured, although these facilities could have provided many examples of this. What they reflect, in each case, is a new way of looking at the role of the jail in the local criminal justice system. I hope you enjoy and benefit from the issue.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:management of local jails becomes more standardized
Author:O'Toole, Michael
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:Freedom - at what price to corrections?
Next Article:Community programs - a risky business.

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