5 reasons to hire a correctional consultant
Only invest your facility's money in a firm that understands correctional staff and inmates
By Wendy Leach, JD
Whether it starts with an inmate lawsuit, safety-related incident, news story or Department of Justice inquiry, correctional facility leaders often face large and complex problems they may not feel equipped to handle alone.
The concerns of leaders related to these events may lead them down the path of looking for assistance from a correctional consulting firm.
As a correctional consultant myself, you may think my advice is to always hire a consultant. Not so. Though there are times when consultants are the right decision, often agencies may not need outside specialized help or may need less than they think.
Here are 5 reasons why you may want to hire a correctional consultant:
1. When the correctional facility is significantly behind in contemporary correctional practice.
Having worked with jurisdictions whose policies and procedures were from the 1970s – yes, that can be true – there is no question these clients needed an outside firm to help them.
Any agency that is behind the times and unaware of current best practices, or is running a correctional facility void of cameras, computers, mental health care or any current practice that we all consider necessary, likely needs someone to provide structure, updates and modern-day thinking to bring the agency up to current correctional standards.
2. When the Department of Justice or other party sues for conditions of confinement.
Any lawsuit, especially one alleging unsafe conditions of confinement, should spur on the search for outside assistance.
Experienced plaintiffs know the ability of an agency to understand and rectify its problems is more likely when it teams with experienced consultants who regularly do work with jurisdictions in legal trouble. It also saves significant money and time to start smart and complete consent decrees and settlement agreements quickly.
3. When you need temporary assistance to meet a goal or standard in a particular period of time.
Not all assistance needed is comprehensive or long term. You may have a large training goal and need temporary training assistance, or your policies need review to ensure they are gender-responsive or meet a legal standard.
Consultants can provide curricula and trainers and move many staff through training faster than an often-beleaguered training division can, providing policy reviews that are professional and meet those standards in a short period of time.
Likewise, a small project may benefit from having one consultant offer reviews or suggestions on a short-term basis.
4. When you have no internal quality assurance (QA) team or are trying to build one.
Many correctional facilities either do not have QA teams or have a process that is not relaying the information they need. Consultants can come in and perform QA reviews, provide reports and even teach staff how to perform QA functions so the agency can look at its own practices and improve processes in the future.
5. When you need an outside view and recommendations about an internal problem the agency has been unable to address or doesn’t have specialized staff to address.
Often correctional facilities simply do not have the specialized staff they need to do a particular task. An outside party can also identify problems and do what I call “dig into the whys” sometimes better than current employees.
Good outside correctional consultants have techniques for interviewing staff and reviewing documentation that can lead to discoveries of challenges the agency needs answers to. They are also unbiased and neutral, with no relationships or concerns about their future shift or job assignment at the facility to consider.
If you do hire consultants, be sure the money being spent has a practical impact on staff and how they do their work. Often, consultants work in a vacuum at headquarters, rarely if ever speaking to line staff or spending time on third shift. Though well-intended, recommendations that look great on paper may be unworkable at the actual prison or jail, resulting in a waste of time and resources.
Only invest your budget money in a consulting group that understands correctional staff and inmates and makes suggestions or policies work for those who have to carry them out.
About the author
Wendy Leach, JD, is a Senior Consultant with The Moss Group, Inc. and has worked in numerous jurisdictions providing training and assistance in inmate and staff safety, conditions of confinement, PREA compliance, facility operations and system-wide policy revision. She has led multi-member teams in prison and jail assessments around the country, has been a faculty member at the national PREA Auditor Training, and has spoken at various summits and conferences nationally. Prior to joining The Moss Group, Leach was a prosecutor in Baltimore Maryland, managed a federal settlement agreement with the Department of Justice over conditions of confinement in three Maryland detention facilities, and later served as the statewide detention facility Director of Quality Improvement and as a corrections consultant. She is a Department of Justice-certified PREA auditor based in Chicago and a graduate of Albany Law School in Albany, New York.