New Ohio jail to provide direct supervision of inmates
In the direct-supervision model, inmate cells ring a central area, or pod, with an unarmed deputy sitting at a desk in the pod
By Kimball Perry
The Columbus Dispatch
FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ohio — When Franklin County opens its new jail in 2019, the sheriff's office will have a new philosophy about inmate treatment that officials say will improve safety for both deputies and inmates.
"They're not sitting around all day thinking of ways to screw with us," Chief Deputy Geoff Stobart said.
Stobart was referring to "direct supervision" of the incarcerated, a different way to deal with inmates. It's becoming so popular that many jails, including Franklin County's, are being built to accommodate the new philosophy.
It "is going to continue so long as new jails are going to be built," said James Gondles, executive director of the 147-year-old American Correctional Association. "It is a calming influence."
Currently, in Franklin County's two jails — one Downtown, one on Columbus' South Side — inmates are behind bars and deputies on the other side of the bars occasionally walk by the cells, rarely interacting unless inmates get into trouble or need something.
In the direct-supervision model, inmate cells ring a central area, or pod, with an unarmed deputy sitting at a desk in the pod — like a teacher in a classroom.
Inmates are more likely to behave if they are closely watched 24 hours a day by officers sitting feet away. Deputies inside the pod have a direct line of sight to inside all of the cells and there is an emphasis on deputies building relationships with inmates.
"If you're addressing their needs, they'll be doing the things they're supposed to do," Stobart said. "It's an inmate behavior-management tool for us."
The change is important because almost three-fourths of the jail's inmates, many incarcerated because they are awaiting trial, will be released directly into the community.
"These are our neighbors, our co-workers," Stobart said. "I would hate to be judged on my worst day."
That kind of attitude is at the core of direct supervision, which studies have shown results in less violence and more cooperation.
Direct, constant interaction helps build relationships and protects inmates from one another. It allows deputies to reward or punish inmates for behavior and it gives deputies a better, more comprehensive understanding of inmates' issues, such as mental health or addiction, so services can be provided to them earlier.
"The major factor is close supervision," Gondles said. "You don't have glass or bars or walls between the corrections staff and inmates."
He said direct supervision is more than 30 years old but is now gaining in popularity. Because the shape of the units has to be right to facilitate direct supervision, it's being used more as jails are built for it.
Franklin County will break ground this fall for a more than $170 million jail on Fisher Road on Columbus' West Side. The jail and a new forensic center, together totaling more than $200 million, will be paid for by a quarter-cent sales-tax increase imposed in 2013.
To be ready for the 2019 opening, the sheriff's office has been training many of its 400 corrections deputies in the new philosophy.
"I think it's a tremendous system," said Maj. Paul Bryant of the sheriff's office. "It will empower our inmates with a reward system."
Bryant has been overseeing deputies who have visited Washtenaw County, Michigan, where the sheriff uses direct supervision. They saw firsthand how direct supervision works and how their jobs will change. The change will give deputies more authority over inmates, causing them to be more independent-thinking to meet inmates' needs.
"It takes a different mindset and skill set to have 24/7 interaction with inmates," Stobart said. "Nobody hates changes more than cops, good or bad."
The new system will allow deputies to give inmates perks for good behavior — extra visits, items from the commissary menu, extra recreation time and even access to an ice-cream cart. The new jail also could allow for each cell to have a washer and dryer. Well-behaved inmates could get extra hot water for laundry, coffee or soup.
It will be an adjustment, but worth it to Stobart.
"I think it's the most important thing we're doing," he said.
©2017 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)