County jails: Challenges to come in 2014

County jails face challenges in 4 areas: leadership development, mental health care, workforce development and public relations


Challenges county jails face are numerous, but in most cases they face challenges in four basic areas. They are leadership development, mental health care, workforce development and public relations. Interestingly, these four areas are interdependent and have a cause and effect relationship. Although the severities of these challenges are affected by local politics, the facilities’ inmate capacity and physical layout of the jail, they are indeed universal challenges shared by departments across the nation.

Leadership development is the combination of objective and subjective qualifiers in the pursuit of leaders within the department. In a previous piece I wrote how leaders are not necessarily supervisors. Often departments place an overemphasis on developing supervisors as leaders. When doing so they forget about the leaders within the training team, the CERT team, the investigations team and so on. The people in these areas are going to have a huge impact in caring for inmates, molding newer officers and how the public perceives the agency.

County jails are the clearing house for America’s mentally ill. County corrections officers spend a disproportionately large amount of their shift caring for the mentally ill. Although ensuring the mentally ill within our jails are getting the proper care is important, we often do so at the expense of other inmates. Some of the underserved inmates are those who may change their criminal thinking if more resources were focused on them. Developing a plan to provide for the care and custody of the mentally ill which does not take resources away from other segments of the inmate population, such as inmates with substance abuse issues or juvenile inmates, will be a vital component to local jails operational planning.

Employee turnover and corrections are forever linked to each other. However, with proper planning employee turnover can be reduced. Developing a sound recruitment plan with reasonable expectations will likely increase the quality of applicants. Part of examining your expectations must be an honest look at the labor market in your area and the compensation of other law enforcement agencies. Sheriff’s departments differ on their policies regarding transferring corrections officers to patrol deputies. In my home state of Wisconsin, many sheriff’s departments do not automatically fill patrol vacancies from the jail. Rather, once hired as a corrections officer, the person is usually going to remain a corrections officer for their career. This can be a problem for sheriff’s departments and their efforts to keep the jail fully staffed. Often corrections officers leave the department entirely in pursuit of a patrol job in a city police department.    

When leaders are developed within the facility, the challenges of caring for the mentally ill and other more venerable inmate populations will be met head on. This sense of accomplishment will help tremendously when building an atmosphere where all staff can grow as professionals. With this professional growth the needs of the community s will be met more effectively thus leading to a better public perception. With a better public perception recruiting only the best staff will become easier.

I know it is much easier to write about these challenges then actually finding a solution, but whoever said corrections was easy!

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