NIJO Accreditation began in 2012, when numerous agencies began requesting an alternative to existing accreditations for correctional facilities. Of primary concern was the lack of benefits of associated with correctional accreditation bodies using questionable standards and inspection processes which were subjective in nature, did not adequately recognize the differences between prisons and jails, and were costly and labor intensive.
Jail accreditation is an established process for jails to show their correctional facility complies with what courts have determined in operating constitutional jails. The process relies on legal-based jail guidelines promulgated by the National Institute for Jail Operations, utilized by hundreds of jails across the United States. Because the guidelines are based on case law, the requirements of the accreditation process are consistent among all jails, regardless of size and structure. The guidelines vary from state to state according to differences in state statutes and rulings by the Circuit Court of Appeals governing the participating agency.
Accreditation is a voluntary, proactive, ongoing process. Agencies desiring to participate sign an accreditation intent agreement, pay a fee to cover the cost of the accreditation, conduct a self-audit of pre-determined legal-based guidelines and prepare for an on-site verification inspection by trained NIJO inspectors. The level of accreditation awarded is based on the percentage of compliance to the legal-based guidelines and the on-site verification inspections. Each year the Agency must provide required policy and proofs of compliance. Depending on the size of the Agency, a minimum of two NIJO inspectors will conduct an onsite verification inspection during the first year of the three year accreditation cycle. Proofs are required as part of the accreditation process:
- For policies, operational practices and procedures, training and physical facilities
- For historical documentation that policy and procedure is being followed
- For clear understanding of a particular standard by staff members by conducting interviews
ACCREDITATION WITH NIJO
NIJO Accreditation differs with those conducted by other organizations as follows:
|Other Accreditations||NIJO Jail Accreditation|
|Standards are often based on “best practices” determined by the accrediting organization body.||Accreditation guidelines are based on current case law specific to the agency’s state statutes, circuit court, constitutional and federal rulings.|
These are the most cited benefits of those agencies seeking NIJO Accreditation:
- Discover dysfunction, misconduct and noncompliance before it results in litigation, embarrassment or other harm
- Proactively defend against lawsuits by measuring current policies and practices to what is required by the law
- Justify requests for additional funding
- Improve staff training, development and professionalism
- Create safer environment for staff and offenders
- Reduce liability insurance costs
Legal-Based Jail Guidelines© are entirely derived by constitutional, federal and state law and operational correctional practices safeguarding life, safety and health of the officers and offenders. Each guideline provides not only the guidance and instruction regarding case law and statutes but also articulates the rationale behind each guideline. They also include compliance discussion requirements. Additionally, annotation with statutory requirements (e.g., ADA, RLUIPA, PREA) and study findings is included as a reference to the facilities when preparing for accreditation. Pre-inspection requirements and the audit team’s onsite checklist are also included for each guideline. This mitigates the subjectivity of the auditors.
Currently, there are 630 guidelines divided into 15 sections. The number of guidelines varies slightly state to state based on state statutes, circuit court rulings, etc. This number does NOT include the DOJ PREA standards, as they are not based on case law and are purely voluntary in nature for all agencies except those under the authority of the Department of Justice. Some guidelines are not weighted into the accreditation scoring due to their limited compliance requirements.
The NIJO Legal-Based Jail Guidelines are weighted according to risk management as they associate with safety and litigation. A number of guidelines are referred to as “Core Guidelines” given their importance. Examples of critical core guidelines include key, tool and weapon control, use of force, searches, restraints, exercise, religion, suicide, inmate communication, and gender issues. These are often areas that are the most litigiously contested in inmate-filed lawsuits against correctional administrators and areas that the highest concern for inmate, staff and public safety. Depending on the level of accreditation, compliance to specified core guidelines are required.
ACCREDITATION ACHIEVEMENT LEVELS
Levels of accreditation exist to recognize the good-faith efforts various agencies may have to be compliant to the guidelines and case law. While many can achieve Level I Accreditation status, some cannot due to limited resources outside of their budget and control. NIJO awards accreditation levels I, II, III and Recognition by percentage compliance to both Core Guidelines and overall compliance. The level of accreditation is scored and announced following the onsite and final review.
Receiving the designation of a “NIJO Accredited Facility” is a process that requires fundamentally sound policies, procedures and consistency in correctional operations. The process to become accredited is as follows:
- Facility sends written correspondence to NIJO to request the intent to become accredited. All correspondence should be sent to:
National Institute for Jail Operations
RE: NIJO Accreditation
PO Box 1115
Midway, UT 84049
- NIJO sends the facility an Accreditation Contract Agreement, formalizing the facility’s intent and commitment to become accredited.
- The facility executes the Accreditation Contract Agreement and returns it to NIJO along with the following:
- Check made payable to AARMS for 100% of the implementation for the online system. Check made payable to NIJO for 50% of the 1st year accreditation as agreed in the Accreditation Contract Agreement.
- The name of the individual identified by the facility to serve as the key contact representing the facility throughout the accreditation process. This role is referred to as the “Accreditation Manager.”
- NIJO activates AARMS web-based accreditation audit module and grants access for users to manage the accreditation process online. Access is also provided to access the following:
- Accreditation Online Self-Audit Checklist – (conducted by the facility)
- Accreditation Inspection – (conducted by NIJO Auditor Team)
- The facility may begin conducting the Accreditation Self-Audit Checklist, documenting compliance and attaching required policy and proof statements found in the MORE INFO area of each guideline. Once fully completed, the facility notifies NIJO.
- NIJO reviews the Accreditation Self-Audit Checklist and ensure the policies, proofs and documentation submitted provides the potential to meet the minimum scoring required for accreditation. Once verified, NIJO will assign dates for the onsite accreditation inspection, notify the facility and audit team assigned to conduct the onsite accreditation inspection. This team will immediately begin reviewing policy and procedure to verify compliance.
- The facility is billed for the remaining 50% due for the cost of accreditation. Once paid, the onsite accreditation inspection is authorized to take place.
- The onsite accreditation inspection is conducted by the assigned audit team. It consists of two inspectors trained by NIJO. The facility should anticipate accreditation inspectors to be onsite approximately three (3) days verifying procedures, inspecting facilities and interviewing staff. At the end of the last day, the audit team holds an exit conference attended by the facility administrator, commanding officers and any other staff invited by the facility. This is to provide a summary recap of the initial onsite accreditation inspection and answer any questions about the inspection before the audit team leaves and submits their findings to the NIJO Accreditation Board.
- The audit team submits its final report to NIJO. Within 30 days after the onsite accreditation inspection is completed, the results are tabulated and scored based on compliancy with the Accreditation Self-Audit Checklist requirements and the onsite accreditation inspection. Accordingly, the facility is recommended to receive accreditation or denied by the NIJO Accreditation Board. A Notification of Recommendation or Denial is sent to the individual with oversight responsibilities of the facility (Sheriff, Warden, etc.) and the Executive Director of NIJO with the complete results.
- If a facility scores below the minimum percentage required for the accreditation level being sought, the facility has the opportunity to correct non-compliant findings using the corrective action tools found within the online accreditation management system. The facility is to complete any corrective action within 90 days of receiving the Notification of Recommendation or Denial. If the corrective action required must be verified by a return onsite accreditation inspection, it will be at the expense of the facility.
- An appeal or challenge may be submitted in writing within 30 days of receiving the Notification of Recommendation or Denial if the facility believes the audit team inaccurately reported findings of a particular standard. An appointed Accreditation Review Panel (selected by NIJO) reviews the challenge and will make a ruling based on the evidence provided by the facility and the audit team. The Panel’s finding is final.
- Accreditation is formally awarded and recognized by NIJO and posted on the NIJO website. Recognition is also generally given at NIJO Regional Conferences general sessions.
- In order to maintain the status of being accredited each year, the facility must submit proofs as directed for standards for Year 2 and Year 3. For “off years” the facility is required to submit annual documentation of procedural, policy updates and any major changes occurring within that given year to maintain its accreditation status. This is facilitated using the online accreditation management tool. NIJO, in extenuating circumstances, reserves the right to conduct an announced inspection anytime between the second and third year to verify ongoing compliance for the Agency. NIJO inspectors would conduct this on-site inspection in the same fashion as the initial onsite inspection.
- The fee for ongoing maintenance, support and the updating of the online accreditation system payable to AARMS, who administers the online accreditation management tools, is billed monthly throughout the accreditation cycle, unless otherwise negotiated by both parties. This amount is indicated in the Accreditation agreement.
Re-accreditation occurs every 3 years. After the third year, the facility is required to restart the original accreditation process, providing new policy, documentation and conducting an onsite accreditation inspection. This includes all costs associated with the accreditation process.
For more information about NIJO Accreditation or to find out more about participation, Contact Us.