National Core Jail Standards

Adapted from an article by Rod Miller and Connie Clem

The year 2010 brought a breakthrough in U.S. corrections with the introduction of new Core Jail Standards by the American Correctional Association (ACA). After many years in which agencies needed to invest considerable resources in pursuing ACA accreditation, a practical and flexible alternative is now available to guide any jail to better and safer operations.

The new Core Jail Standards have been field tested and revised, and jails around the nation are already using them. At ACA’s summer conference in 2011, it was decided that jails can receive full accreditation if they meet the new standards.

ACA invited many corrections professionals to help develop the Core Jail Standards. The American Jail Association (AJA) and the National Sheriffs Association (NSA) partnered with ACA to develop the standards.

The new standards are a distillation of their combined professional insight and expertise. Each contributor brought a unique perspective to the development process, and the Core Jail Standards have a different meaning to various stakeholders.

The Core Jail Standards are a new set of standards developed and maintained by the American Correctional Association (ACA) to address unmet needs in the detention field. They are a smaller offshoot of ACA’s full Performance Based Standards for Adult Local Detention Facilities (ALDF), which have provided the basis for ACA accreditation for many years.

The Core Jail Standards are especially useful for:

• Jails located in states that have no state jail standards;

• Jails whose states’ standards do not address all of the requirements for operating a constitutional jail; and

• Standards writers who want to have a reliable description of basic minimum requirements for operating a constitutional jail.

There are three main reasons why jail standards are an important asset for jail leaders and managers.

1. Jail standards establish the foundation for sound jail design and operation. A jail’s policies and procedures translate professional standards into daily operations. Training prepares employees to implement these procedures and thereby run a constitutional jail. Employee supervision ensures consistent implementation of procedures and high levels of performance for the overall agency.

2. Standards provide the basis for evaluating operations and measuring compliance. Jail managers agree that jail standards increase professionalism, reduce liability, improve operations, and increase consistency of jail operations.

3. Jail standards are relevant to jails of all sizes. While larger jails often have more resources for responding to the challenges they face, smaller facilities must find ways to deal with the same issues. Standards help managers in any size jail to anticipate the problems that may occur and prepare responses in advance.

In 2004, the working group that developed the fourth edition of ACA’s ALDFstandards also identified the need for a set of national minimum jail standards. At that time, ACA published only its “professional” standards, including the ALDF and a separate set of standards for small jails. The ALDF standards are anindicator of professional excellence and are worthwhile to meet, but the 2004 ALDF working group acknowledged that it is not necessary for all jails to operate at that level. The working group recommended that ACA discontinue the small jail standards and replace them with minimum standards that could be used by jails of all sizes.

The needed standards would incorporate the essential nuggets of the ALDF standards, elements of states’ jail standards, and court-defined indicators of constitutional levels of operation.

Dozens of stakeholders donated hundreds of hours of labor to create the Core Jail Standards (see Table). Contributors are recognized at the end of this article. They include the 2004 working group already mentioned. A 2008 team later worked very hard to produce an initial version of the Core Jail Standards. The standards were field-tested, and a 2009 working group completed a revised version.

ACA anchored the process, convening committees to draft the Core Jail Standards and providing staff support. To form the working groups, ACA Executive Director Jim Gondles asked the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) and American Jail Association (AJA) to designate committee members. This ensured that jail administrators from jails of all sizes, and sheriffs from a variety of counties, added their experience and expertise. The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) funded travel to some meetings. In the home stretch, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Harley Lappin personally chaired work sessions and brought BOP resources to the table. The ACA Standards Committee reviewed two drafts of the core standards before adopting them by a unanimous vote in August 2009.

ACA’s performance-based ALDF standards were the starting point for drafting the minimum Core Jail Standards. The ACA Standards Committee required that the new core standards would be drawn from existing ALDF standards in order to reduce confusion in the field and to ensure consistency between the two ACA publications. The 2008 working group adapted the content of the ALDF standards, reframing them to make their principles accessible to jails of any size. Each ALDF standard includes five components:

1. A Performance Standard—the condition to be achieved and maintained;

2. Outcome Measures—quantifiable data for evaluating the extent to which

the desired condition has been achieved;

3. Expected Practices—specific actions and activities that should be

implemented to reach compliance with the performance standard;

4. Protocols—written tools that provide direction to staff, such as policies,

procedures, post orders, and training curricula; and

5. Process Indicators—sources of evidence that the expected practices are

being properly and consistently implemented according to the protocols

An “expected practice” is similar to a traditional standard as they appeared before the standards were re-written in the performance-based format. The working group reviewed the “expected practice” language from each ALDF standard for its suitability to be carried over as a core standard—in whole, in part, or in principle.

By definition, the Core Jail Standards are a subset of ACA’s broader professional ALDF standards. The core standards are not only shorter in form, they also address a narrower range of issues. State standards vary widely in breadth and scope.

The first draft of the Core Jail Standards was field tested in 2008 in the U.S.

Army disciplinary barracks at Fort Knox, Kentucky. In May 2009, ACA asked Mackinac County, Michigan, to field test the revised version to provide insights to the ACA Standards Committee for its meeting in early August. Although the short time frame was daunting, Sheriff Scott Strait agreed to take on the challenge.

The new standards apply to jails of all sizes. During their development, many larger jails had expressed a strong interest in the new standards and asked that ACA set no size limits for the application of the standards. ACA officials decided to make the text of the Core Jail Standards available to the field at no cost, with the hope that this would make them accessible to the counties that most needed the information they contain. ACA also has developed a new, lower-cost audit process for accreditation using the Core Jail Standards. Any jail can use the Core Jail Standards for self- and peer audits of their jail

facilities and operations.

The jail profession has responded with interest to the Core Jail Standards. There has been some back and forth on the question of accreditation vs. certification on the Core Jail Standards. Mackinac County’s 2009 contract with ACA used the term “accreditation” rather than “certification.” The Commission on Accreditation for Corrections elected to change the recognition to certification shortly after Mackinac County completed its compliance audit. At ACA’s 2011 summer Congress of Correction, the decision was made to offer full accreditation.

David Parrish, Hillsborough County, Florida, (Chair 2008 Working Group, Vice Chair 2009 Working Group)

Harley Lappin, Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Chair 2009 Working Group)

Rod Miller, CRS, Inc., Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Sandra Bedea-Mueller, Ocean County Department of Corrections, New Jersey

Mark Fitzgibbons, Beaufort County Department of Corrections, South Carolina

Jerry Frey, Hampden County Sheriff’s Dept., Massachusetts

Steve Ingley, Executive Director, AJA

Owen Quarnberg, Utah Sheriffs’ Association

Tom Rosazza, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Blake Taylor, South Carolina Department of Corrections

Hal Wilbur, Broward County Dept. of Corrections, Florida

John Bittick, Sheriff, Monroe County, Georgia

Stanley Glanz, Sheriff, Tulsa County, Oklahoma

David Goad, Sheriff, Alleghany County, Maryland

Robert Hall, Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office, Michigan

Sid Hamberlin, Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office, Idaho

Margo Hurse, Jackson County Detention Center, Missouri

Ted Kamatchus, Sheriff, Marshall County, Iowa

Mike Pinson, Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia

Gwyn Smith-Ingley, Executive Director, AJA

Everette Van Hoesen, Sheriff, Kay County, Oklahoma

Jeffrey Beard, Secretary, Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections

Ron Budzinski FAIA, Peoria, Illinois

David Haasenritter, Army Review Board Agency

Jim Hart, Hamilton County, Tennessee and University of Tennessee technical assistance team

Jamie Haight, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Washington, D.C.

Virginia Hutchinson, Chief, NIC Jails Division, Washington, D.C.

John May M.D., Armor Correctional Health Services, Florida

David Ward, Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Maryland

Jim Gondles, Executive Director, ACA

Mark Flowers, Director of Standards and Accreditation. ACA

Jeff Washington, Deputy Executive Director, ACA

Bob Verdeyen, Former Director of Standards and Accreditation, ACA


Click Here to Purchase a hard copy of the Core Jail Standards from ACA

You may download a Word or PDF file of the standards at no cost below:

         PDF Core Jail Standards as printed June 2010

Other Downloads Available Below:

         Draft Core Jail Standards Self Audit Form January 2011 v2

           Powerpoint Presentation about Core Jails Standards  (click below)

            Core ppt

Community Resource Services