On August 5, 2018, Pima County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) successfully met Accreditation requirements through the National Institute for Jail Operations (NIJO).
The NIJO accreditation process requires agencies pursing accreditation to provide policies and documented proofs of compliance to ascertain their policies meet requirements of the law and that they are being practiced and followed. There were 578 applicable legal based guidelines, specific to correctional case law governing the state of Arizona, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Supreme Court rulings and federal acts and regulations applicable to Pima County Adult Detention Center. After extensive review of policies and a thorough onsite verification inspection conducted, the jail received a Level II Accreditation rating.
This achievement for Pima County was initiated by Sheriff Mark Napier. Chief Byron Gwaltney explained the reasoning behind the effort, stating “We elected to achieve national accreditation as an avenue to audit our practices and to ensure we were operating our facility as well as we could, and as well as we thought we were, and to limit any liability regarding possible future litigation. The choice to become accredited through the National Institute for Jail Operations (NIJO) was important because we wanted the accreditation to have purpose, we did not want to approach this process with a cookie-cutter / one-size-fits-all approach. NIJO’s Accreditation is based on our state laws, federal circuit courts and Supreme Court decisions and the Constitution. Knowing we are doing things right based on those requirements has a definitive and real meaning.”
Keeping policies and procedures up to date with current case law is challenging and demands an administration to consistently maintain a high, professional level of operations. PCSO support and commitment to operating the facility within compliance requirements of the legal based guidelines has enhanced jail operations, increased professionalism and proactively served to protect against liability and other risk management issues.
Captain Sean Stewart expressed the importance of seeking accreditation through NIJO, stating, “Through the process of becoming NIJO accredited, we have aligned our policies and practices with what is required by law. I am confident in the decisions I am making because I am not just going back and reading a book I got from someone four years ago, I am using current case law and staying up-to-date with all legal requirements, and that is huge.”
Historical statistics show counties that actively participate with the NIJO Legal-Based Jail Guidelines accompanied with the inspection or accreditation program account for 28% – 33% of jail liability losses, compared to the national average of 71%, a significant decrease and savings for those participating counties. When asked about how line staff, supervisors, and command staff at PCSO felt about achieving accreditation, Chief Gwaltney stated, “Across the board our staff viewed this process as a positive, knowing that the accreditation is legal based and not just someone’s idea on how they thought things should be done.”
Tate McCotter, NIJO Executive Director, who was present during one of the onsite verification inspections, explained, “There are few professions which are as volatile and subject to change as corrections. In order to be compliant with the law and run a constitutionally safe facility, jail administrators must be proactive and stay ahead of the curve, constantly updating policies and procedures, looking for ways that safety and security might be compromised. That is exactly what the accreditation process accomplishes. Pima County Sheriff’s Office did a remarkable job by proactively discovering and addressing potential liability and risk management issues.”
McCotter commented, “When done with transparency and based on legal-based principles, accreditation benefits the jail staff, the inmates and the entire public. For most counties, the jail is the largest liability in county government and the process itself becomes a significant risk management and liability defense.”
In order to maintain accreditation status, the jail must provide annual proofs of compliance and policy revisions for two additional years. The cycle is repeated every three years to maintain consistency and verify compliance.
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