By Jerry Barratt, Brazos County Sheriff’s Office
Organizational change is perhaps the most difficult decision any administrator can decide to make. Change is hard to accomplish and, for some employees, hard to understand. Why change? What’s wrong with the way we’re doing it now?
These are just a few of the obstacles to overcome. In the spring of 2008, Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk and Jail Administrator Wayne Dicky made the decision to implement the Inmate Behavior Management Program at the Brazos County Detention Center. This decision would impact not only the daily operations of the jail but would require a complete shift in the inmate management philosophy. Officers would be asked to do things never before asked of them, such as direct contact with inmates in housing areas on a frequent basis, assumption of responsibility for inmate behavior in their housing areas, and decision-making directly related to how their particular housing unit operated.
An inmate behavior management plan consists of the following six elements:
1. Assessing inmate risks and needs.
2. Assigning inmates to housing.
3. Meeting inmates’ basic needs.
4. Defining and conveying expectations for inmate behavior.
5. Supervising inmates.
6. Keeping inmates occupied with productive activities.
These elements are an integrated process designed to encourage positive inmate behavior that complies with staff expectations. This process requires that all six elements be implemented in their entirety and that staff members understand and accept their role in encouraging positive inmate behavior.
Assessing inmate risks and needs is very simply the classification process. We began a review of our process and concluded, based on an average daily population of approximately 500 inmates, that almost 40 percent of our population was classified as maximum. This obviously impacted our housing decisions in a negative manner and left us little flexibility in housing inmates. We switched classification tools from the point additive to the decision tree and reclassified every inmate in jail at the time, and added a face-to-face interview to the process.
This in turn led to a review of our housing scheme and resulted in a new housing plan with much more flexibility to deal with fluctuations in population trends as well as a rising number of inmates. With a new housing plan, we were able to completely separate different custodies and gained added flexibility in dealing with disciplinary matters, medical, special housing inmates, and special needs inmates. Inmates were assigned to an orientation tank for up to 48 hours allowing classification staff to fully integrate them into the population.
Every person has certain social, physical and safety needs. Meeting basic needs can be as simple as providing nutritious meals. Failure to provide these basic needs can result in inmates acting out negatively. Failure to provide inmates with adequate necessities such as toilet paper, clean clothes, toiletries, or sheets can result in theft or hoarding. Adequate medical care is a must. Contact with family and friends through visitation and mail is more important to an inmate than almost any other activity. The inmate who must provide for his own safety may resort to making and hiding weapons. Meeting inmate needs will prevent small issues from becoming big problems later.
In order for inmates to understand what is expected of them and what appropriate behavior is, they must first be told. We begin during the intake process by describing what behavior is appropriate and what is not. This process continues through the classification process and assignment to general population housing. Inmates are constantly reminded through the use of videos, posters and officer orientation. Staff members are trained not to accept bad behavior as the norm for inmates and to hold inmates accountable for their actions.
Supervision of inmates required the biggest change in the way we managed inmates. We wanted to move from a physical containment focus to a behavior management focus. Inmate behavior management requires us to be proactive and interact with inmates in a positive manner. In the past, officers reacted to bad behavior. We informed staff they would become the supervisors of their housing units and would be held accountable for inmate behavior in those housing areas. Never before had officers been given the authority to set expectations for a housing unit. This new philosophy required officers move into a new field of supervision.
The sixth and final element seeks to provide productive activities for inmates. These activities include not only work opportunities but recreational activities as well. Productive activities can include work in the housing unit, positive unstructured activities in the housing unit, structured activities in the housing unit, and organized programs outside the housing unit.
Our implementation process began with the appointment of a program manager to manage training and implementation, and to monitor progress toward a successful transition. Next, supervisory staff attended inmate behavior training at the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) in Aurora, Colo., including implementation training. Next, NIC trainers came to Brazos County and trained specific staff in areas of supervision, meeting basic needs, and setting and conveying expectations. In conjunction with inmate behavior management training and in anticipation of opening a new facility, staff was also trained in areas of direct supervision.
The implementation process continued in April 2009 with the introduction of an inmate request procedure. This resulted in an immediate reduction in inmate grievances. Officers up to this time operated inmate housing areas from hallways or control rooms and rarely entered inmate housing areas except to break up fights. They were encouraged to begin entering inmate areas for reasons other than to stop negative inmate behavior. They were instructed to begin feeding in the housing units, not from the hall. They began passing mail out inside housing units. Finally, staff was encouraged to make regular, routine rounds through inmate housing units. As the amount of time staff spent in cells and dorms increased, there was an immediate decrease in inmate behavior problems.
A noticeable change in the relationship between staff and inmates occurred with increased staff presence in inmate housing units and increased positive staff interaction with inmates. A 45 percent to 50 percent drop in grievances and disciplinary incidents occurred as a direct result of increased positive staff interaction with inmates in their housing units. Graffiti has all but disappeared from inmate housing units. Finally, staff has recognized that treating inmates with respect will gain positive reactions in behavior. Inmates have discovered that in order to get respect, you must show respect.
Our implementation of the inmate behavior management program has made huge differences in the operation of our facility. Officers are encouraged to take ownership of their housing unit and to hold inmates accountable for cleanliness. Inmates are constantly reminded of our expectations for their behavior and consequences of bad behavior. From inmate disciplinary action to the way we order and store basic inmate necessities, we have incorporated the principles of inmate behavior management in our daily operations to provide a more efficient and safer environment for staff and inmates alike. H – Jerry Barratt’s criminal justice career spans over 30 years with his first stint at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice from 1973-2003. Barratt retired from TDCJ and began employment at Brazos County in 2007. He is currently the Inmate Behavior Management project manager, grievance and disciplinary officer, and internal affairs investigator for the jail. Barrett attended Central Texas College in Killeen and Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.