Have you ever spent the night in jail? Well, I have. Several times. Fortunately, it was while helping folks to practice operating their new jail before the official opening: checking out the building, systems, operating procedures, and staff behavior. As a normal adult, you have some interesting reactions when you are locked in a small room. One of the primary ones: “Is anybody checking on me and making sure I am all right?” You can assume offenders have the same initial reaction. Think about what kinds of inmate behaviors might result if they feel nobody is checking on them – both attention getting behavior and, of course, perhaps some inappropriate negative activity.
Good jail practice dictates staff presence in housing areas, even if not a direct supervision facility, in order to effectively manage and moderate inmate behavior. You remember what happened when your teacher left the school room for a few moments? Translate that to a housing unit with 32 - 64 inmates or more. One of the keys of inmate behavior management and effective supervision is active staff presence in the immediate area. One way to institutionalize that is to formalize a system of well-being assessments.
Keep in mind the goal of inmate well-being assessments. This is not a count, not a “round”, not a security check, and not just “passing by” in a housing unit. It is a discrete assessment that each inmate is not under duress and is “well”. That is an important component of inmate supervision: not only are you assessing the inmate, but the inmate sees that you are actively making sure everything is ok. That can have a positive impact on behavior. It also, incidentally, can reduce liability and risk, so make sure the assessments are dictated by policy, formally logged, and well-documented.
It is important to keep the goal of the activity in mind. Remember the old night watchman days when the watchman carried a key and needed to turn the key in a clock at the far end of the warehouse? Guess what the goal became? Turning the key, not looking around attentively and truly being a “watchful” watchman while traveling to the clock. Make sure the inmate well-being assessments don’t just become a “walk-through and log” event.
The recommended or required frequency of well-being assessments varies from state to state where governed by state jail standards, as well as by individual jurisdiction, history of court intervention in a particular area, and inmate supervision philosophy/model. Generally the frequency of assessment is hourly or at 30 minute intervals on an irregular schedule – irregular so that they are not predictable. At risk offenders are assessed more frequently.
The American Correctional Association Standards for Adult Local Detention Facilities (Second Edition) standard 2-5174 stated that “written policy and procedure require that all high and medium security inmates are personally observed by a correctional officer at least every 30 minutes, but on an irregular schedule.” The general practice was to extend that frequency to include all general population at 30 minute intervals, and that low level security or community-level custody (work release, etc.) could be assessed hourly.
The bottom line: do you feel hourly is adequate and defensible given your jail population or would 30 minute intervals let you sleep better at night? Remember, what you decide sends a message about the importance of inmate supervision, behavior management, and safety to the offenders, staff, community and maybe even the courts.
NIC project page:
Inmate Behavior Management
Inmate Behavior Management: The Key to a safe and Secure Jail
Programs and Activities: Tools for Managing Inmate Behavior
Inmate Behavior Management Reduces Misconducts and Grievances
Check the NIC training schedule frequently for the next offering of Inmate Behavior Management
NIC Contact for Inmate Behavior Management assistance and training is Fran Zandi
American Correctional Association: Behavior Management Plans Decrease Inmate Self-Injury
National Sheriff’s Association: Effective Inmate Supervision – The Foundation for Jail Safety and Security
Nebraska Crime Commission: Inmate Personal Checks and Counts
Martin County Sheriff’s Office: Inmate Visual and Security Checks
As always, if you don’t find what you want to go Ask NIC
Points of view or opinions stated in this blog are those of the authors and
do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of
the U.S. Department of Justice.