Innovative Alternatives to Traditional Municipal/County Corrections

Tested solutions to jail management needs

There are over 80,000 city and county jails in the United States. Operating the jails requires dedication of staff, resources, and money (both upfront and ongoing). In an era of constrained budgets, policy makers are looking for new ways to access personnel, innovation, expertise, and flexibility, and to cut or offset costs.

New models and techniques emerge every day, and innovative policy makers are seizing opportunities that are changing the face and shape of municipal corrections. These models present time-tested solutions to various jail management needs.

Outsourcing Saves Money and Puts More Police on the Streets

Traditional jail management uses sworn police officers to perform many duties that do not require their specialized training. One example is booking detainees. Every arrest requires a plethora of repetitive tasks-forms must be completed, photos and fingerprints taken-that do not require the expertise of police officers. Police officers receive highly specialized and expensive training; in any event, they are not trained to be correctional officers (COs) in a jail, they are trained for police work in the community.

Realizing this, several cities have outsourced their jail management. Rather than keeping police officers off the beat to manage the paperwork, they use trained correctional officers instead. After making an arrest, an officer can be in and out of the jail in 15 minutes. Handing off the paperwork responsibilities to COs gets the officer back out on the street where he should be, providing additional trained police work for the community without costing the community more. Police officer man-hours are dramatically increased, eliminating the need to hire additional officers.

Seal Beach a Model for Outsourcing

In 1994, the City of Seal Beach, California chose to outsource jail management to Correctional Systems Incorporated (CSI). CSI provides total jail management for the city’s 30-bed facility, including hiring, training, discipline, booking, transportation of detainees, and manuals for jail operation. CSI in turn contracts with a food vendor and has a nurse on site five days a week (a doctor is also available for consultation).

CSI’s management team has been proactive in their management approach, seeking new ways to offset operational costs for the contract cities. Seal Beach receives a per diem for each inmate housed, which offsets the costs of running the jail. Taking advantage of the fact that there was excess cell/bed capacity in the facility, Seal Beach entered into a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to house non-violent federal offenders along with their short-term offenders. Typically, inmates have short-term sentences (i.e. overnight up to three months); occasionally, they serve up to six months time. The BOP non-violent offenses include such things as DUIs while operating a boat or an off-road vehicle in a national park, or minor violations of community release. The BOP benefits from housing these inmates at the Seal Beach city jail-the cost of integrating and releasing inmates into their own system for such short terms is a poor utilization of expensive bed space for minimal risk offenders. CSI also transports inmates to and from the Seal Beach facility, a bonus for the U.S. Marshall’s service, which traditionally handled transportation for the BOP.

Seal Beach City Jail (SBCJ), under the management of CSI, has also started an offender self-pay program. Non-violent, minimal risk offenders can request court approval to opt out of the county jail and pay to serve their sentence at SBCJ instead. They are charged $70 a day, plus a one-time $70 booking fee for the service. The self-pay model benefits all parties: the city gains revenue to offset jail operations, taxpayers pay less to house offenders in city rather than county jails, and offenders can serve their time in a smaller, non-violent facility.

Potential SBCJ inmates go through an extensive screening process: court papers are examined, interviews are conducted, and standard police checks are performed on every applicant. After all this, city officials still maintain the right of refusal.

CSI has used this model for several other cities-Whittier, Bell, and Montebello, among others, contract with CSI for jail operations and have instituted the offender self-pay program. Alhambra has implemented a “trustee” program under CSI management at their jails, wherein detainees often work on city grounds, performing community services under the supervision of jail staff or city employees.

CSI’s management practices conform with federal, state, local, and American Correctional Association guidelines for jail operations. Outsourcing to CSI has brought more cost-efficient operations, improved allocation of inmates and their jail time, additional revenues for jails and cities, and superior training and innovation in management.

CSI’s COs meet or exceed training requirements. Their training includes an eight-hour orientation, 40 hours of on the job training (OJT), and Title 15 requirements of STC Basic Correctional Officer CORE courses. In addition, CSI arranges for their COs and supervisors to attend American Correctional Association (ACA) correspondence courses.

When CSI transports detainees to city or county jails, or to the courts for the city, it uses secure jail vans, which are an economical and safe alternative to having each police officer transport perpetrators in patrol vehicles. By using the vans, several detainees can be transported at the same time, which saves time and money. CSI also innovates in handcuffing methods. Traditionally, perpetrators were handcuffed behind the back; CSI uses handcuffs in front, which are then attached to a belly chain. This results in fewer injuries from sudden stops, and security can be enhanced with leg irons. This method is now commonly used by the U.S. Marshals and the BOP.

Huntington Beach Uses Offender Pay Program

Officials in Huntington Beach took a different route than neighboring Seal Beach. They, too, offer an offender pay program, but decided to keep jail operations and the program in-house, rather than outsourcing them.

Huntington Beach City Jail (HBCJ) offers non-violent offenders an alternative to county jail. The program can house six males and between three and five females. Inmates are detained in more comfortable and private conditions than at the county jail, and pay a per diem of $65 to serve their time there. Revenue is collected by the city treasury, placed into the city’s general fund, and is used to offset jail administration costs.

The HBCJ program started in 1996 for male offenders, and in 1999 was opened to female offenders. Storage space was cleared and modified into cells that are segregated from the other parts of the jail.

The typical inmate has a very short stay-in most cases, 48 to 72 hours. However, HBCJ has been home to some for up to six months (usually through a work furlough program).

Like SBCJ, HBCJ conducts rigorous screening of potential inmates. In the interest of staff safety, customer satisfaction, and security, HBCJ only accepts no- and low-risk applicants. Applicants may not have any drug, violent, or sex-crime convictions. Minors are also not eligible for the program.

The HBCJ program is a great asset to Huntington Beach, benefiting both low-risk inmates and city residents. Its lower jail administration costs reduce the tax burden.

Mecklenburg County Focuses on Core Competencies

Jail facility management, like inmate management, requires specialized skills. Mecklenburg County Sheriff Jim Pendergraph saw the value of focusing on his core competency, which was managing inmates, not facilities. “I know how to take care of inmates but I don’t know how to take care of the facilities,” he realized.

Because his interest was in security, not maintenance, Pendergraph turned to outsourcing for the latter. A local full-service real estate company, the Keith Corporation (TKC), was brought in to consult. After initial discussions, TKC sought out a consultant of their own to learn the nuances of managing correction facilities (e.g., tool control, security, and work programs). Shortly thereafter, Keith & Keith Corrections (KKC) was formed in order to specialize in correctional facility maintenance management.

KKC developed a first year, pro-forma plan to provide facility maintenance services for both the Mecklenburg County Sheriffs’ Office (MCSO) existing facilities and its new 1,004-bed facility, which was nearing construction. KKC’s plan was substantially less expensive than initial MCSO budget projections. and KKC was awarded the contract in April 1996.

Since then, KKC has continued to provide facility management services for MCSO. Essentially, KKC provides full-scale facility maintenance-management services (including paying bills related to their services such as utilities, waste removal, and supply purchases) for Jail Central (the new 1,004 bed pre-trial detention and intake center), Jail North (a 614-bed facility), Jail North Annex (a 200-bed temporary facility) and the Work Release and Restitution Center (150 beds). A 900-bed expansion of Jail Central is nearing completion and will be added to KKC’s contract in late 2001.

Each month, KKC provides MCSO with a detailed invoice of their services. A flat fee is charged, and all reimbursables are billed with no mark-up. Under this system, MCSO cuts only one check a month, compared to dozens before. KKC also instituted a new payroll system for MCSO, enabling them to determine how much time and cost it takes to perform various maintenance activities.

Outsourcing facility maintenance has several advantages. Besides providing detailed accounting, reporting, and benchmarking of costs, KKC can use its buying power to shop for lower prices from suppliers. By and large the single most important benefit is that the company is run by real estate management professionals who bring a wealth of experience and expertise to facility management. Focusing on their core competency allows them to keep up with the latest technologies, including training and staff development, that are specific to facility maintenance.

Rachael Vanhoy, business manager for MCSO, says that significantly higher standards for maintenance and service have been established. Respective responsibilities are more clearly defined: the primary mission of MCSO is corrections and security, while the primary mission of KKC is to provide quality service at a cost-effective price. The first full fiscal year savings were approximately $315,000. Vanhoy further notes that most MCSO employees were retained by KKC.

Custody Assistants are New Solution for Largest County Jail System in the Free World

Los Angeles County in California, famous for its sunshine and stars, is also infamous for having the largest county jail system-and largest jail, Men’s Central or “The Jungle,” as some pundits have called it-in the free world. The LA County Sheriffs’ Office (LACSO) is charged with the task of housing nearly 20,000 inmates in the county’s eight detention facilities.

Historically, sworn deputy sheriffs have always worked in the jails. Upon completing training at the academy, deputies undergo a tour of duty in the jail system. The “tour” originally was intended to be two years duration or less-after which the deputy is reassigned to the LA streets for patrol duty.

In the late 1960s and ’70s, deputies in the jails worked side by side with civilian COs. At the time, COs were only allowed to work with formally sentenced inmates. Since the majority of the inmates were sentenced, this didn’t pose a problem. However, in the years to follow, the non-sentenced population swelled dramatically, and it became increasingly difficult to operate the facilities with dual administrative populations.

The CO program was soon phased out, and deputies assumed full control and responsibility of the jail system. Now deputies were spending upward of seven years in the jail system instead of doing the patrol work for which they were trained. (Currently, deputies average between four and five years in the jail system.)

Policing training is quite different from corrections training. Deputies receive 18 weeks of training at the Academy, wherein they learn for, among other things, patrolling, investigation, and general policing responsibilities. After that, they undergo an additional two weeks of jail operations training. For the most part, the very specialized and expensive police training is not used by deputies doing their tour in the jail system. Realizing this, LACSO dramatically altered its philosophy and approach.

In 1986, a new program similar to the CO program was initiated. Called the Custody Assistant (CA) program, with hiring beginning in 1987, it was intended to reverse the trend and aid deputies in managing the jail system. After regular police training at the academy, CAs undergo an additional five weeks of correctional training.

Early on, CAs were limited to working only in “safe” environments, such as inside guard booths and other non-contact areas. Duties and responsibilities have grown considerably, as new posts have been identified. Approximately 900 CAs now currently work side-by-side with deputies, performing many of the same duties deputies have been responsible for-including inmate transport, counts, and searches.

A memorandum of understanding with the deputies’ union limits the number of CAs to 35 percent of jail staff. However, short-term plans call for hiring more CAs to alleviate overtime expenses. Furthermore, long-term plans call for a dramatic change in the program-almost a complete reversal from current status-in which deputies will account for 35 percent of jail staff. This will transform the CA program into a CO program with varying ranks, classifications, and duties. Most importantly, it will shorten the time deputies spend in the system, getting them back to the regular police work for which they were trained.

Cost savings have been the largest driver behind expansion of the program. Salary and benefits for deputies start at $71,545, while CAs start at $52,793-a savings of $18,752 a year per CA. Multiply those savings by 900 (the current number of CAs) and LACSO saves $16.9 million a year-the equivalent of 236 new deputies on the streets in LA County. Program expansion will result in even further savings, as the percentage of deputies in the jail system declines, and the added benefit of 236 more deputies available for patrol duty.

Money is also saved in training. Currently, when deputies complete their tour in the jail system, they return to the academy for three weeks to complete “patrol school” again. Shortening the jail tour eliminates some of the need for retraining, which saves money.

To date, the CA program has been a major success, both in financial and human resource management. Department morale has also improved significantly. Deputies who enrolled to patrol and police will be able to do so faster. CAs and eventually COs will also have new opportunities for advancement within the department that are currently unavailable to them-making the program a viable career path.


Policy makers are becoming more innovative in their jail operations. The movement, spurned by access to personnel, expertise, and flexibility is seen in outsourcing. Although not always a major driver, cost savings or offsetting costs can be achieved if desired.

Outsourcing ranges from a single service (e.g., facility maintenance or food service) to entire jail operations. Policy makers can customize outsourcing to meet specific needs and specific goals.

Geoffrey Segal is director of privatization and government reform at Reason Foundation