Four years ago, state corrections department researchers undertook the most comprehensive look in Ohio history at how county jails operate. Their survey, while more constrained than they intended, identifies a number of best practices to which jail administrators, in Lucas County and elsewhere, should pay attention.
In 2008, there were 349 jail facilities in Ohio, including 92 full-service jails, 13 minimum-security jails, and scores of facilities to hold offenders and suspects for shorter periods. Jails were regularly inspected and evaluated, but state standards weren't grounded in current research and did not take into account differences in jail size, function, and population. As a result, few jails ever complied with all state standards.
So the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction conducted a broad-based evaluation of all local detention facilities, to establish a set of best practices for jails to use and against which they could be judged. The department released its report last month.
The study is less comprehensive than initially envisioned. Previously collected data were narrowly focused, time-constrained, and unreliable. Because of state budget cuts, the new research was limited to full-service jails. Those cuts also mean that hoped-for new state standards won't be developed anytime soon.
But that should not stop full-service jails from carrying out the report's proposals. Among them:
● Clerical and support staff should not perform security functions.
● Time in booking before a bed assignment should be less than 90 minutes. Jails are less secure when they "incarcerate higher concentrations of unsentenced inmates, or detain inmates for longer periods in holding cells."
● Overcrowding is less important than "social density" in determining jail security. More space per bed reduces contraband infractions and increases security. Temporary beds make jails less secure, but are preferable to double-bunking and multiple-occupancy cells.
● Holding cells should be under unobstructed camera surveillance. There also should be sufficient space for suicide-watch cells.
● Roving patrols are important, but provide less security than "the most direct form of supervision, use of embedded officers within housing units."
● Jails should use objective criteria to classify inmates by security risk.
The report's findings call for a more systematic, scientific approach to establishing jail procedures. Jails that have experienced staff and a low turnover rate have fewer infractions and critical incidents, the study concludes.
There's much more in the report -- all of it useful now and as a baseline for future research. County jail administrators across Ohio should mine the survey for ways to enhance professionalism and increase security.