I read with interest the article from Sheriff Terry L. Thompson concerning federal inspections conducted by the US Marshall and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the November/December issue of the National Sheriff Magazine. For many Sheriffs and jail commanders that partner with either USMS or ICE the article detailed situations we have all experienced. Clearly the goal of the federal agencies to insure that their prisoners or detainees are being properly housed cannot be disputed. I believe there must be a better process for accomplishing this goal. It is in the interest of Sheriffs, jail commanders, and the federal government to develop a process that trains, provides on going management of goals and promptly informs all parties of potential risks. If there is a real “partnership” between the federal agencies and sheriffs, the goal should be not to replace the inspection process but rather refine the inspection procedure. This would allow both the federal government and Sheriffs the opportunity to identify and correct real problems.
Currently, a federal inspection can encompass a wide spectrum of procedures. It can range from a U. S. Marshal sitting in the jail telling command that he does not know how to run a jail and will complete the inspection as satisfactory. It can also consist of several “content experts” retired from state or federal correctional systems working through a check list of “key indicators”. Often these experts provide different interpretations of the same standard and technology has outpaced standards. Neither process can achieve the goal of improving an agencies level of service to a federal prisoner or detainee. Rather, it has become a process getting “your ticket punched” in order to keep federal dollars coming to the agency.
It should be in our collective interest to improve the current process. Leadership by the NSA with the Jail Training Initiative is an excellent start. The program allows agencies to conduct self-audits regarding the legal based guidelines. If an agency can meet the legal guidelines it is required to operate under, it clearly should meet standards created by a Federal agency. In my opinion, Federal agencies should work to have their standards reflect current legal guidelines, work to develop a standardized interpretation of those guidelines and then encourage their partner jails to use legal based guidelines as the method for internally reviewing respective jail operations.
Ongoing management of the existing legal guidelines is essential and should be part of any revised inspection process. A Sheriff’s Office can accomplish this internally or with an outside consultant. The current situation of developing a plan to resolve issues an agency may feel are less than important identified during a federal inspection, only to forget about the plan after it has been submitted, is counterproductive for both the Sheriff’s Office and the federal agency. Action must be taken on identified issues. It helps everyone if a Sheriff’s Office can show the progress of their attempts to resolve an identified issue.
Feedback to key managers is an essential part of any audit process. If the ongoing management of existing issues is successful then the sheriff and jail management should know if a situation is resolved. Feedback goes a step past resolving an issue and walking away. Top managers must know that if a change is required it is in compliance with the law, it has been made, it works and has resolved the identified issue. Again, feedback can be made internally by staff, by an independent reviewer or in some locations by federal auditors assigned to assist the jail. Management and feedback concerning an issue is of course useless if there is no standardized interpretation.
The federal inspection process must be improved. Any effort by the NSA to work with USMS and ICE to find solutions to this problem is very timely. Based on the NSA initiative using legal based guidelines for jails, the NSA has an excellent start. An effort to provide a method for jails to improve their operation, while assisting the Federal agencies with a process to insure fair and legal treatment for their prisoners and detainees is overdue. It will require hard work for both the NSA and federal officials to develop consistent interpretation of even legal based standards. It is hard work that will result in a stronger partnership between Sheriff’s Offices nationally and the Federal agencies they serve.
Chief Deputy Marshall Weeks
Calhoun County Office of the Sheriff
Marshall Weeks has been the Calhoun County Chief Deputy since 1999. Since being selected as Chief Deputy by Sheriff Allen L. Byam, Weeks has been the administrator of Corrections operations and operations of Community Corrections. During his tenure as Chief Deputy, Weeks has worked closely with both the U. S. Marshal Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement housing federal detainees.
Prior to working with the Office of Sheriff, Weeks was employeed by the Michigan State Police. He ended his 27 year career with the State Police as an Inspector.