Risk Management in Jails: How to Reduce the Potential of Negative Outcomes

Article excerpt

Jail administration is the business of identifying and managing a multitude of risks. Almost every decision an administrator makes--from personnel decisions and inmate housing assignments to the provision of medical and mental health care services--is designed to reduce the risks associated with housing a potentially volatile, high-risk population. Administrators must be aware of these risks and employ all available tools to minimize the potential for negative outcomes.

The following information will help jail administrators identify the risks in their institutions and develop strategies to manage them. Taken from the Kentucky Association of County Officials' Jail Risk Management Manual, these strategies will reduce the likelihood of successful litigation against them or their governments. They will also help administrators establish and achieve the goals of their organizational mission by providing a framework for implementing a mission-based management system and suggesting outcomes consistent with current standards for professional correctional administration.

The Organizational Mission

It is critical that administrators develop a clear mission statement for their facility from which measurable goals can be established. A simple, general mission statement has historically been "to provide for the care and custody of those incarcerated." Care refers to health care needs of inmates that are met through medical and mental health services. Custody has historically been described by such terms as "a secure facility," "the supervision of inmates" and the general "conditions of confinement" relating to safety and sanitation. While these terms generally outline the administrator's duty, they do not convey the organization's mission in a way that can produce measurable outcomes.

Mission-Based Management

Under a mission-based management approach, the mission statement is further defined to produce the basis for measurable goals. In this case, a more specific mission statement might be, "to incarcerate offenders in a manner that protects the public and institutional safety while providing a legal standard of care, and to provide programs intended to reduce the likelihood of reincarceration." The organization's goals would be to:

* Ensure the public's safety;

* Ensure the institution's safety;

* Provide a legal standard of care; and

* Provide programs intended to reduce the likelihood of reincarceration.

This more detailed mission statement refers to care and uses the legal standard as a baseline to be provided to all inmates. The term "care" is general in nature, while "legal standard" is more specific because it refers to a more defined and measurable level of care established in statute and/or applicable case law.

This mission statement also refers to more performance-related goals such as protecting the public and institutional safety. As an example, one protects public safety by preventing escapes and institutional safety by preventing assaults and introduction of dangerous contraband into the facility. Although "custody" is a general term, the goals of "protecting the public and institutional safety" are measurable by performance.

Providing programs is an optional goal unless dictated by law or contract housing requirements. Programs can have invaluable impact upon inmate behavior and a direct relationship with achieving other goals.

Whether approaching risk management from a care and custody perspective or a mission-based management perspective, the primary objectives are to minimize negative events and encourage positive ones. In order to accomplish these objectives, information must be gathered about inmates to determine care and custody requirements and enable organizations to protect the public and institutional safety while providing a legal standard of care, and to provide programs intended to reduce the likelihood of reincarceration. …