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Practical Perspectives: Jail Inmate-Programming Management Strategy and Recidivism
By Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, Jail Administrator, Scott County Sheriff's Office
Published: 10/04/2010

County jail
Editors note: The following is the third in a series of articles written by Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, of the Scott County Iowa Sheriff's Office. Mr. Tebbitt is a Jail Administrator and a PhD candidate. The series includes: contemporary issues with jail/corrections administration. The series uses the fictitious County name of Acme County.

Acme County has implemented a limited variety of jail inmate-programming alternatives in an effort to address the tremendous cost associated with operating the jail. However, inmate management efforts the County implemented in 2003, has had little affect in the continued growth. Given this conclusion, the advisable question for any jail administrator is obviously why. Attempting to answer this question requires better understanding of who stays in custody within the Acme County jail.

The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs has charged the Bureau of Justice Statistics to conduct and analyze jail census nationwide. Annually it publishes a report on “prison and jail inmates at midyear” (Sabol, Minton & Harrison, 2007). From 1999 to 2007, the number of inmates in custody at the national level increased 22.3%, in custody regionally in the Midwest increased 27.7%, and for this period the County saw a 37.4% increase. The County increases averaged 3.3% annually during this time. A reasonable conclusion would be that the County continues on a 3% incarceration increase rate, as the recent past statistics would project. This of course waives the notion that legislators will cause any relative impacts on the local jail and that the community sentiment of the past to over use the jail as a sanctioning option would not return.

Following a complete assessment of the County jail’s admission data one clear fact stands out. Over the last ten years, jail records indicate better then a 70% chance of returning to its facility, or about 7 out of 10 released inmates within 3 to 36 months wind back up within the confines of the jail for a myriad of reasons stretching from non-compliance to their sentence stipulations to new law violations. The national average return to custody because of non-conformance or non-compliance is about 4 out of 10 when best practices set to course and influencing the outcome, as reported by the National Institute of Corrections.

From an industry standard benchmarking standpoint, Acme County jail releasees are much more likelihood to return to custody when compared to most communities across the country. Here lies the leadership challenge. Ultimately, the criminal justice system’s goal in the process of addressing the law violation is to reduce the likelihood that the law violating behavior is to occur again by the sentenced individual. It is at this point in the process the topic of recidivism comes into play (American Bar Association Commission on Effective Criminal Sanctions, 2009; Aubin, 2009).

Recidivism in the criminal justice system represents the rate at which a person convicted of a crime violates the law again in the same fashion, or an entirely different category of criminal conduct violates a different law (American Bar Association Commission on Effective Criminal Sanctions, 2009). Within the criminal justice system, recidivism can be reflected in the form of numerous measurements. Specifically, within corrections for example measurement can examine a wide range of activities that are thought to change behavior, which is intended to reduce the likelihood of a participants return to custody. Activities can range from participating in programming concepts that address behavior and the motivations that are believed core to causing the law violating behavior to psychological reasoning that is believed influence the unacceptable behavior as well (Fox, 2010; Lowthian, 2010). Whether the subject participates in programming or not, recidivism reducing activities are intended to reduce the participants return to the criminal justice system. Within a correctional setting, impacting the recidivism of the correctional services consumer is a primary outcome goal.

If recidivism rates are the industry standard in measuring in part incarceration effectiveness, and theory has it when applied can facilitate assessing effectiveness of any jail’s operation if return to custody is a principle outcome value. Acme County should consider adopting recidivism rate benchmarks within its inmate-programming management strategy to judge its organization effectiveness and to be used for future modifications to the change direct it takes. Consequently, Acme County needs to rally all parties around embracing concepts evidenced to reduce recidivism in a systemic synchronized resource effort to achieve maximized results. As reported from the outset, solutions to Acme County’s criminal population management problems will not be linear.

County solution to its criminal case management must employ a myriad of currently unpracticed techniques to effectively classify and assess for services in pursuit of efficiently and effectively manage the resources in accordance with the risk the County is willing to take in the process. The County has minimally implemented alternatives to inmate-programs within custody, which has had limited recidivism reduction influences. Bridging philosophical and resource allocation indifference, the County’s recidivism rate as a principle outcome measure needs to be the focus. One of the most compelling reasons lies behind the fact that the County’s apparent failure to address conditions contributing to racial corrections imbalance translates into a grossly disproportionate presence of the African-American male within its jail, and would likely remedy if focused upon.

The US Census Bureau reports Acme County’s census on the African-American population representing only 6.4% of the total. Interestingly, Acme County’s daily average inmate population is represented by 50-55 percent minority. Nationally the over-representation of minorities in custody is a well-documented phenomenon. It is indicative of bigger social issues throughout the country (Mauer and King, 2007). Failure to focus on this disparity will only continue a modern American tragedy. Further development of collaborative programming and reinforced lines of communication that address criminal behavior in the community rather than overusing one asset over another to adjust behavior will facilitate the County achieving its goals to reduce recidivism in the future.


American Bar Association Commission on Effective Criminal Sanctions. (2009). Federal Sentencing Reporter, 22(1), 62-76. Retrieved July 8, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1979102831).

Aubin, M. (2009). The District of Oregon Reentry Court: An Evidence-Based Model. Federal Sentencing Reporter, 22(1), 39-43. Retrieved July 8, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1979102851).

Fox, C. (2010). Developing an offender problem profile. Safer Communities, 9(3), 17. Retrieved July 8, 2010, from Career and Technical Education. (Document ID: 2108843921).

Lowthian, J. (2010). Reoffending following custody: improving outcomes. Safer Communities, 9(3), 36. Retrieved July 8, 2010, from Career and Technical Education. (Document ID: 2108843901).

Mauer, Marc and Ryan S. King. (2007). Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration By Race and Ethnicity. The Sentencing Project: Research and Advocacy for Reform. Pg 1-19. Washington DC. Article/abstract retrieved August 6, 2010, accessed from: http://www.sentencingproject.org/Admin%5CDocuments%5Cpublications%5Crd_stateratesofincbyraceandethnicity.pdf.

Sabol, William J.; Todd D. Minton and Paige M. Harrison. (2007). Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Publication/abstract retrieved August 9, 2010, accessed from: www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs.

Other articles by Tebbitt:


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