Jail Planning: Reality-Based Inquiry
Jail planning differs from planning other facilities because several factors must be considered beyond the typical function, flow and number of occupants. When called on by clients to help them assess and plan for new or improved jail facilities, we begin by asking three basic questions that help us determine how to get the most for their tax-payer dollar, not only in capital improvement budgets, but in on-going operational costs.
Question #1: What type of jail organization or supervision model does the client use?
This is an important question because the type of supervision model directly impacts the operating budget of a facility. Jails are arranged in housing units and pods. Generally, custody staff, often called correctional officers, (and rarely are they referred to as guards) are deployed throughout a facility in one of three primary supervision models:
Direct Supervision – The Direct model puts an officer in each housing unit 24/7 creating “direct” one-on-one contact with inmates. This model develops a personal understanding and respect between inmates and staff, a more in-tune understanding of the unit. Sensing the tenor of the unit often is the first sign of potential problems which can be mitigated before they escalate.
Indirect Supervision – Custody staff are not posted in units, but rather in a control room to observe dayroom areas via cameras. Control room officers manage door controls and inmate movement. “Rovers” move from unit to unit for cell checks or inmate counts, but don’t spend hours interfacing with inmates.
Blended Supervision – This is a hybrid of direct and indirect supervision. Control officers have direct line of sight into housing pods. Then, based on classification, some pods might have officers working in direct supervision mode 24/7. Or all pods might have officers in them during the day, but at night when everyone is locked down, the facility reverts to an indirect supervision model.
Question #2: How are staffing levels influenced by the supervision model?
This is where reality comes in. Staffing is the single most costly component of a jail. Since a jail is always in operation, many posts are staffed 24/7/365. Each 24 hour post requires at least six full-time equivalents (FTEs) to fill the position.
Regardless of supervision type, every similar sized facility needs the same number of control room officers, rovers, transport officers, area specific officers (i.e. programs, medical), and booking officers. If a jail has seven pods, with a direct supervision model, there would need to be at least seven positions (42 FTE) officers to be stationed in those pods. In an indirect supervision model, the same seven pods could be managed by three positions (18 FTE) rotating through the pods. The 24 officer difference, in reality, would add more than $1M to the jail’s operational budget.
For a county trying to manage a tight budget, a blended supervision model will help reduce operational costs while maintaining personal connections with the appropriate classifications of inmates.
Question #3: What are the trends in inmate population projections for this jurisdiction?
This question requires several points of consideration as demographers and statisticians develop accurate projections in regard to the future use of a facility. How has legislation impacted sentencing rules? Current trends indicate legislation is loosening the sentencing laws in several areas, particularly misdemeanor offenses. Is the general county or city population growing or declining? Is the economy depressed or accelerating in this region which directly impacts crime rates.
As clients consider these questions based in reality, their answers become the foundation for smart, creative and best solutions for their unique needs.