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Archive for Sunday, August 29, 1999

TO HELP MANAGE INMATES

August 29, 1999

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Changes in management style are in store at the new Douglas County Jail, where corrections officers will employ a concept called "direct supervision."

Like the Wizard of Oz, corrections officers at the old Douglas County Jail worked largely behind the scenes.

The linear design of the old jail was such that jailers couldn't see the inmates and vice versa.

If an inmate had a problem, he had to shout or bang against his cell door to get an officer's attention.

At the new jail, corrections officers will see all.

That's because the officers will be right there, walking and talking with the inmates.

As part of a jail management style called "direct supervision," which is growing in popularity among jailkeepers nationally, corrections officers will mill about with inmates at the sprawling facility southeast of Lawrence off Kansas Highway 10.

With the dormitory-style design of the new jail, interaction is key, officials say.

Interaction reduces violence

It's interaction that makes direct supervision work, says Ken Kerle of the American Jail Assn.

The association is so sold on the management style that they recommend it to any group building a new jail or prison.

"There's a decline in violence in these places just because of the omnipresence of the officers. They're there all the time," Kerle said during a telephone interview from his Hagerstown, Md., office. "It is a big, growing movement -- what I call participatory management.

"It works because the officers who've been trained feel confident they can manage these pods (housing units)," Kerle said. "They know, 'Hey, I'm in charge here.' They tell the inmates, 'These are the rules, and we'll get along fine if you follow them.' You don't do it in an authoritarian, military manner."

Direct supervision requires good communication skills, Kerle said.

Kerle has toured more than 700 jails in 48 states. He cautions that direct supervision won't work if corrections officers aren't committed to or aren't properly trained to apply the new method.

Philosophical principles

The change from linear to direct supervision requires jail officials to embrace a different philosophy, Kerle said.

Officers who will be working at the new jail have studied 22 recommended principles for operating a direct supervision housing unit.

The principles range from setting high expectations of inmates and holding charges directly responsible for their behavior to praising inmates when appropriate and listening to their concerns.

Capt. Bob Van Hoesen of the Douglas County Sheriff's Department said several sheriff's department staff members went through training offered by the National Institute of Corrections.

"Our trainers received training from the NIC and became certified instructors, and they have been instructors for the rest of our staff," Van Hoesen said.

Sheriff Loren Anderson said the county opted for direct supervision for several reasons.

"It is a much more effective way to utilize personnel and maintain a safe and secure environment," he said.

Seeing all

In the minimum- and medium-security areas, inmates will eat and work together in shifts. A desk for the corrections officer is situated in the middle of pod, but the officer will be encouraged to spend more time among the inmates.

The maximum-security pod is set up differently. Officers will stay within a glassed-in area.

Touch-screen security computers are set up in each housing area. If there's a problem in a cell, an alarm will sound on the computer, alerting the officer.

Sgt. David Dillon, a member of the jail's transition team and the sergeant in charge of training, said corrections officers are preparing for the big change.

"They're ready to get out of the overcrowded, linear facility, but at the same time there's a level of anxiety because the concept is different," he said.

Direct supervision makes jails safer for inmates and officers alike, he said.

"The officer is there with the inmates and able to manage their daily schedule," he said. "He's able to manage their behavior."

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is dgruver@ljworld.com.

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