Oswego County Sheriff's Office, NY 315-349-3302

Direct Supervision: A Safer, More Effective Jail

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jail cell

Using a method of jail management called direct supervision, correction officers are able to keep inmates under continuous 24-hour supervision. Inmates in direct supervision jails have a better chance of leading productive lives after they finish their sentence.

Based on a system of reward and punishment, direct supervision raised a few skeptical eyebrows when it was first proposed nationally in 1969. Doubters believed inmates would be treated too kindly, making jails less effective.

However, the past 25 years have proved the opposite to be true, according to Voorhis Associates, a Colorado-based firm hired by the county to plan and develop the operational program requirements for the jail and Sheriff's offices in the Public Safety Center.

Direct supervision jails have resulted in better control of inmates. When compared to traditional jails, direct supervision facilities have a significant decrease in violence, noise, vandalism, and harassment of staff by inmates.

Inmates who exhibit good behavior are assigned to progressively more normalized living areas. Inmates who break the rules are assigned to more restrictive living areas.

Most inmates in the PSC live in an area called a "pod." Based on their behavior, prisoners are assigned to pods ranging from minimum to maximum security. Males and females are separated by gender.

Jail Pod

Each pod has three levels of security with increasingly better accommodations: Individual cells have a metal bed, sink, small desk, and toilet. Some cells open out into small "sub-day areas" with tables and seats. Other cells and the sub-day area open out into a large, communal "day area" with tables, chairs, and telephones.

An inmate's behavior determines if he or she must remain in a cell or be allowed into the sub-day or day areas. Electronic locks control access to the areas.

Divided by walls of security glass, each area is within sight of the others 24-hours a day. Inmates who behaved poorly always see other inmates in the less restrictive areas, and realize that if they behave, they will be allowed into those areas, too. The reverse is also true. The sight of inmates in more restrained and confined areas will serve as a constant reminder of the consequences of poor behavior.

Direct supervision makes inmates responsible for the quality of their life during their jail sentence. The lesson remains with them after they've served their sentence and are returned to society. The old jail's design had no incentives to learn how to behave.

A jail which rewards good behavior with cells containing porcelain fixtures is economical because the fixtures are less expensive to buy and maintain than the stainless steel fixtures in higher security cells.

The jail also features programs for inmates, including educational classes, a library, and better recreation areas. All of these features are required by state mandates or national standards which govern the accreditation of jails.

Life in a direct supervision jail is also different for the corrections officers. Instead of supervising inmates by "walking the rounds" past rows of barred cells, officers will interact with inmates, often without a physical barrier between them.

A correction officer works inside the pod with up to 48 inmates. The officer controls the locks, doors, lights, and cameras from an electronic panel. Officers in a master control room regulate movement in and out of the pods and have complete electronic command of the jail.

Master Control

By being inside the pod with the inmates, officers can anticipate problems and deal with them proactively, resulting in a safer jail. In the old jail, officers could only react to problems as they occur.

Most correction officers find their work to be more rewarding and less stressful in direct supervision jails, according to Sheriff Todd. The security glass walls and shape of the living areas allow officers to observe all inmates continuously.

Special training is required for correction officers in direct supervision jails. The training involves several levels of instruction, including the philosophy behind direct supervision, policy and procedures, simulations, and operation of the electronic control panels.

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