>Users:   login   |  register       > email     > people    

Inmate Behavior Management: The Key to a Safe and Secure Jail
By National Institute of Corrections
Published: 09/21/2009

County jail Editors Note: The following is an excerpt from a National Institute of Corrections publication
The most fundamental goal of every jail is to maintain a safe and secure environment for inmates, staff, and visitors. Effectively managing inmate behavior is critical to achieving this goal. Traditionally, jails have sought to control inmates solely through physical containment, namely, hardware—locks, steel doors, security glass, and alarm systems. Staff safety was believed to depend on maintaining physical barriers between staff and inmates.

In the absence of staff management of inmate behavior, however, the emphasis on physically containing inmates failed to keep jails secure. With inmates left to their own devices inside cellblocks, problems such as violence, vandalism, and lack of sanitation became so common that they seemed inherent to jails, which, along with communities, have paid dearly for these problems through costly litigation, staff and inmate deaths, jail riots and fires, and escapes.

Over the past 25 years, jail practitioners have learned that jails do not have to be and should not be out of control, dangerous, or filthy. Ample evidence shows that control of the jail can be established through effective management of inmate behavior. Much of what we have learned about managing inmate behavior is based on the experience of jails that use podular direct supervision. Introduced to jails by W. Raymond Nelson when he was chief of the Jails Division at the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), podular direct supervision combines an inmate management philosophy with a specific jail design that conveys an expectation of positive inmate behavior, facilitates staff interaction with inmates, and promotes management of inmate behavior. In direct supervision jails, staff are positioned within inmate dayrooms, and no physical barriers separate them from the inmates. Staff are able to interact extensively with the inmates and provide continuous supervision.

Although many local jurisdictions that have built new jails in the past 25 years have opted for direct supervision design and management, most American jails were built in the era when physical containment was stressed to the virtual exclusion of inmate management. Jail professionals now realize, however, that all jails, regardless of design, are responsible for managing inmate behavior to ensure safety and security.

If inmate behavior is managed effectively, jails can be a good workplace for staff, a safe and clean detention environment for inmates, and a valuable and highly regarded service for the community. An effective jail administrator will accept nothing less. Given the importance of inmate behavior management in achieving safety and security, it may be viewed as the jail’s core function and the jail administrator’s primary concern. You should consider all decisions regarding jail operations with respect to their impact on inmate behavior management.

Inmate Behavior Management Plan

The inmate behavior management plan presented here is based on previous work in two major areas: podular direct supervision and inmate classification. As noted above, W. Raymond Nelson is credited with introducing podular direct supervision to jails. His work was supported and furthered by Michael A. O’Toole, his successor as chief of the NIC Jails Division. James Austin and Timothy Brennan are responsible for much of the work on inmate classification. Both have worked extensively in this area and produced a body of knowledge that has changed the way jail practitioners think about assessing risks and needs in the inmate population.

The inmate behavior management plan consists of six essential elements:
  1. Asessing the risks and needs of each inmate at various points during his or her detention.
  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, once established, function as an ongoing, integrated process designed to generate positive inmate behavior—that is, behavior that complies with the staff’s expectations of what is acceptable. Implementing these elements puts control of the jail in the hands of the staff instead of the inmates.

Establishing a formal, written inmate behavior management plan serves the jail administrator as both a strategy for achieving more effective control over inmate behavior and a mechanism for identifying problem areas in inmate behavior management. The written plan should include goals, an overview of components (the six elements), and provision for periodic assessment to determine if the plan is meeting its goals. The goals of the plan should be based on an assessment of the current status of inmate behavior in the jail and a determination of what behavior is expected of inmates. For example, goals might address issues such as violence, vandalism, contraband, sanitation, and inmate compliance with rules. Goals should be specific and measurable, and the jail should develop a formal system to evaluate the achievement of stated goals at specified intervals.

Implementing an inmate behavior management plan requires the following:
  • Clear directives, in the form of written policies and procedures for each step of the plan.
  • Adequate staffing levels.
  • Staff training.
  • Supervision of staff to ensure that the plan is implemented according to policies and procedures.
  • Systematic documentation and recordkeeping of all activities related to inmate behavior management.

Plan implementation and success also depend greatly on the active direction and leadership of the jail administrator. You must clearly articulate and demonstrate support for inmate behavior management both philosophically and operationally. The remaining sections outline the six elements of an inmate behavior management plan.

The fundamental goal of every jail is to ensure the security of the jail and the safety of the staff, inmates, and the community. To achieve this goal, jails have historically focused on the physical containment of inmates. Over the past 25 years, managing inmate behavior has been shown to be a more effective approach to jail safety and security. By implementing the six elements of the inmate behavior management plan discussed here, the jail administrator puts control of the jail in the staff’s hands, thereby ensuring the security of the jail and the safety of staff, inmates, and the community.

View the entire National Institute of Corrections publication


  1. casman296 on 10/02/2009:

    This was a great article. I have been working corrections for over 16 yrs and direct supervision is a great idea. The response by inmates is so much more managable. If you don't practice this you should it will save your jail, alot of money in the long run.

Login to let us know what you think

User Name:   


Forgot password?

correctsource logo

Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of The Corrections Connection User Agreement
The Corrections Connection ©. Copyright 1996 - 2022 © . All Rights Reserved | 15 Mill Wharf Plaza Scituate Mass. 02066 (617) 471 4445 Fax: (617) 608 9015