A high priority need within small, rural, tribal, and border (SRTB) institutional corrections is the ability to maintain and share digital records and information. Jail management systems (JMSs)—software suites that can collect data on inmates from booking through release or probation—can provide this capability. A JMS that is user-friendly and designed with corrections tasks in mind can improve a jail's administrative functioning, especially if linked to existing systems.
Small and rural facilities, however, can find installation and maintenance costs too high to support implementation of a JMS, and many also struggle with older infrastructure that complicates the use of newer technology. One facility, the Barnwell County Detention Facility in Barnwell, SC, faced these kinds of challenges and did not have a JMS to manage and store inmate records until 2013.
At the time the JMS was adopted, the Barnwell County Detention Facility operated with a staff of 30 and was rated for 96 inmates, and in 2015 the average daily population was 65. Like many rural jails, it is an older facility and until 2013, inmate information was kept in hard copy. Information inquiries required staff to physically locate an inmate’s paper record and copy or pull information from the paper files. The jail was interested in reducing the administrative burden of maintaining paper files and wanted a solution that could work to full capacity within the jails' existing physical and technological infrastructure.
During the request for proposal process, jail staff saw demonstrations of what the local sheriff’s records management solution (RMS) could offer the jail. The decision was then made to piggy-back on the Sheriff’s RMS by purchasing additional licensing agreements. The Detention Facility also had to purchase the necessary equipment for installation.
Technology and operations solutions
The jail administrator believes the JMS's capabilities have improved staff efficiency and reporting accuracy by streamlining many of the Detention Facility staff’s daily duties. Previously, each detainee had a paper files; with the new system, electronic information on inmates is easier to locate and access by any staff member. Corrections officers used to type daily rosters, but the new system can generate rosters at the press of a button. With the JMS, information is better organized and is accessible to all staff immediately. Information can also be shared through various methods, including email, and can be presented in a variety of formats (e.g., reports, rosters, calculations). In addition, these improvements have taken place without requiring changes to the facility’s records and data-related policies.
Detention Facility staff continue to explore the system’s capabilities, learning where to find the information they need and how it is organized. The staff continues to learn from each other and train new personnel as soon as they are hired. The JMS has remained a useful tool even as the jail has grown over time to 40 staff and a 160 rating.
The transition to the new JMS, however, was not totally smooth. Despite providing input on how the JMS should be designed specifically for their facility, staff found that the software did not perform some of the tasks they need. For example, no single roster generated by the JMS contains all the information they need, so some rosters are still typed manually. Also, although several team members from each shift did attend an initial train-the-trainer style of training, many felt that the level of training was insufficient for getting them up to speed on the system as the sessions were only able to cover basic information. They spent a lot of time searching to find the data they needed within the system and extracting it in a useful format.
Outcomes and advice
While many of the noted issues are common with JMS implementations, particularly in SRTB environments, lessons can be learned from the Barnwell County experience. Periodic software updates continue to improve capability and have allowed better internal reporting. In addition, ensuring that sufficient training is provided at the time of implementation, and that investments into continuing training on the system are made after implementation, can help ensure that staff use the JMS to its fullest capacity and take advantage of the various ways that the JMS can improve administrative efficiency.
Finally, despite the implementation challenges, the staff welcomed the JMS, because it improved the facility’s operational performance and allowed them to learn and use technology as part of their daily duties. While a manual record management system was preferred by veteran staff members because of their familiarity with it, new employees typically find it outdated, cumbersome, and time-consuming. Technology solutions like JMSs are one way to attract and retain a qualified, engaged workforce.
For further information: Deloris B. Charlton, Jail Administrator, firstname.lastname@example.org