- Report Published -
|Review of Jail Oversight and Reporting Activities|
|Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission|
|Appropriation Act - Item 15 F. (Regular Session, 1995)|
|There are 96 individual local jail correctional facilities in Virginia subject to oversight by the Department of Corrections (DOC). The majority of these facilities are under the control of a local sheriff. Regional jails and jail farms are typically operated by jail administrators. On August 15, 1995, there were 14,120 inmates in these facilities, which had a total rated capacity of 10,163 inmates. As a result, the typical local jail facility was operating at about 139 percent of its rated capacity. |
Despite the extent to which the number of inmates currently exceeds the total capacity of the local jail system, it is nonetheless a significant reduction compared to the overcrowding experienced by local jails in 1994. On October 4, 1994, more than 16,300 local, State, and federal inmates were housed in these facilities, which had an operational capacity of almost 9,750 inmates. At that time, the typical local jail was operating at about 167 percent of its rated capacity. Chart: Change in Local Jail Capacity and Number of Inmates.
In 1994, JLARC conducted a review of DOC's jail oversight process. The study reported that jail overcrowding was a factor that contributed significantly to inappropriate conditions in local jails. In addition, some of DOC's processes for providing jail oversight were ineffective, and the active involvement of the State health department was necessary. More than 20 recommendations were issued to address specific problems with the existing jail oversight process.
The 1995 General Assembly directed JLARC to evaluate both the jail oversight and reporting activities of the DOC. In addition, the mandate required an assessment of the appropriate organizational placement for these activities.
Many of the recommendations from the 1994 JLARC report were implemented by the 1995 General Assembly through revisions to the Code of Virginia. These include requiring DOC to conduct unannounced inspections, clarifying the role of the State and local health departments in the oversight process, and transferring responsibility for oversight of juveniles in jails from the Department of Youth and Family Services to DOC. In addition, this review found that both the Board and Department of Corrections have made significant progress in revising both jail standards and the oversight process to implement both the requirements of the Code of Virginia and other JLARC recommendations.
However, additional actions are necessary to ensure that the important progress made by both the Board of Corrections and DOC continues and jail conditions remain appropriate. Furthermore, although the location of the oversight process should remain at DOC, completely transferring particular portions of the jail reporting process should be considered to reduce program fragmentation and improve administration and oversight. Significant findings of this report include:
• The operating environment in many jails has benefited from the reduction in jail overcrowding. Actions by the General Assembly and DOC to increase the number of inmates in the State system, which has helped reduce the number of inmates in local jails, has apparently enabled jail officials to begin to perform needed routine maintenance and reduced the stress on jails' physical plants.
• Although the Board of Corrections has made significant improvements to the jail standards, further attention is needed in the area of jail sanitation standards. The Code of Virginia was amended by the 1995 General Assembly to require that the Board of Corrections develop sanitation standards with the advice and guidance of the State Health Commissioner.
• The revised DOC annual inspection process should be formalized by the Board of Corrections. Unlike the certification audit process, it is not clear how the results of a jail's DOC annual inspection can be used in certification decisions. Moreover, the current DOC annual inspection process is new and, as a result, jail administrators and staff cannot project with certainty what the results of annual inspections may mean for their facilities as they can with a certification audit.
• The jail oversight process should continue to be located at DOC. Local jails are secure and restrictive facilities, and DOC's mission and infrastructure supports oversight of and the provision of technical assistance to local jails. In addition, altering the current process could negatively impact the development of the jail oversight efforts of the State and local health departments.
• Finally, although responsibility for producing and disseminating the "Tuesday Report" should remain with DOC, the jail per diem funding program should be transferred entirely to the Compensation Board. A transfer of this function to the Compensation Board would reduce the current fragmentation of the program and strengthen its administration and oversight.
Reduction in Jail Overcrowding Has Benefited Jail Operating Environments
The 1994 JLARC report concluded that one of the major factors driving overcrowding in local jails was the number of State-responsible inmates being held in these facilities. At that time, local jails were operating at almost 170 percent of rated capacity. The level of overcrowding present in some jails at that time made it difficult for sheriffs and jail administrators to continually maintain appropriate conditions for both inmates and staff.
As noted earlier, jail overcrowding has been reduced substantially since the 1994 JLARC study. Moreover, as reported by DOC, the number of inmates held in local jails in violation of the Code of Virginia has decreased from about 1,700 inmates in September 1994 to no inmates held in violation of the Code on September 5, 1995. However, it must be noted that DOC has recently contracted with a number of jails to house State inmates who should be in DOC institutions. More importantly, the number of inmates sleeping on jail floors declined from almost 2,800 in January 1995 to about 1,400 in August 1995.
As a result, the reduction in the number of inmates has apparently enabled jail officials to perform much needed maintenance and repairs. The extreme stress on the physical plants of jails has likely been reduced as well. Finally, sheriffs and jail administrators are reporting that due to reductions in overcrowding, the morale of jail staff has improved.
Enhanced Sanitation Standards are Still Necessary
Although the Board of Corrections' recent revisions to the jail standards are important in ensuring that appropriate conditions exist in local jails for both staff and inmates, further attention is still needed in the area of jail sanitation standards. In JLARC's 1994 report, it was determined that inmate overcrowding often increased the rate of deterioration of jail facilities and subsequently led to inappropriate health and safety conditions.
During the 1994 JLARC study, it was apparent that the two Board of Corrections' standards directly addressing sanitation were inadequate to address the overcrowding in many facilities. In order to address this issue, JLARC staff recommended that the Board of Corrections and the Board of Health develop additional sanitation and environmental health standards for local jails. The Code of Virginia was amended by the 1995 General Assembly to require that the Board of Corrections promulgate sanitation standards with advice and guidance from the State Health Commissioner.
Staff from the State health department report that they will be collecting information from its annual jail inspections to better assess the effectiveness of the current jail sanitation standards. As soon as the State health department has collected sufficient information to accurately evaluate the effectiveness of the existing sanitation standards, the Board of Corrections should, as required by the Code, revise the existing sanitation standards in consultation with the State Health Commissioner.
Both DOC and the Board of Corrections have made significant enhancements to the annual inspection process. These enhancements include addressing life, health, and safety standards during the inspection and reporting the results of the inspections to the Board of Corrections. However, unlike the certification audit, the annual inspection process has not been formalized, and as a result, it is not clear how the results of the annual inspection will be used by the Board of Corrections.
Because the current DOC annual inspection process is relatively new, the administrative structure similar to that of the certification audit process has not been developed. For example, it is not clear how the results of the annual inspection process can impact a jail's certification. In the past, sheriffs and jail administrators did not have the results of DOC annual inspections reported to the Board of Corrections. Therefore, the Board of Corrections should formalize the process so that jail administrators and staff can be aware of the consequences that may accompany deficiencies identified through an annual inspection.
Jail Oversight Function Should Remain at DOC
The results of this study indicate that primary responsibility for jail oversight should remain with DOC. Both DOC and the Board of Corrections have made significant progress in improving, strengthening, and more proactively administering the portions of the jail oversight process under their purview. In addition, the focus and mission of DOC are consistent with the secure focus of jails.
The infrastructure in place at DOC for operating adult institutions also supports jail oversight and technical assistance activities. Moreover, some staff involved with the jail oversight process have had operational experience at DOC adult institutions or facilities. These factors enable jail oversight staff to address issues that affect the entire correctional system _ communication, research, classification, and inmate intake. DOC also has four regional offices located in different geographic areas of the State that support staff actively involved with providing jail technical assistance and jail monitoring.
Finally, removing the process from DOC could hamper the progress that has recently been made in developing the jail sanitation oversight function to be administered by the State and local health departments. Health department involvement is intended to complement the focus of DOC jail oversight, and mitigate DOC staff's lack of expertise in the sanitation and environmental health area.
Jail Per Diem Reporting Should Be Transferred to the Compensation Board
While the mission and focus of DOC supports the administration of the jail oversight process, it does not support the collection and processing of the data used to calculate the amount of State reimbursement for the financial assistance for adult confinement program or the jail per diem funding program. This program currently allocates a significant amount of State funding to local governments -- more than $50 million in FY 1995. Therefore, an agency with a focus on fiscal oversight and administration would be a more appropriate location for this financial-related function than DOC.
At DOC, the data collection process for this program lacks the fiscal oversight that is necessary for such a large State funding program. At one time, DOC apparently recognized this need and requested and received an additional position from the General Assembly to perform audits of the inmate data. However, the position was never filled due to recent agency reorganizations.
Finally, despite DOC's responsibility for data collection and calculation of total inmate days for each jail, the actual payment is processed by the Compensation Board based on data provided by DOC. As a result, this fragmentation of responsibility may act to limit "ownership" of the program as well as limit the amount of oversight the program receives. To mitigate this effect, the process should be administered entirely by the Compensation Board.