3 Ways to Improve Guard Tour

Joe Lewis

Traditional guard tour systems no longer keep pace with the needs of increasingly savvy corrections professionals. Guard tour offers little near and long-term value because of their limited scope of data collection to power reports. Instead, corrections professionals are looking to maximize value with tools that are easy to use, easy to customize, and integrate with enterprise software they already have.

There are three main ways that your jail can improve your traditional guard tour system:

  • Inmate specific data collection and reporting
  • Mobility
  • Quick and easy reporting

Let’s break each of these down.

Inmate Specific Data Collection and Reporting

Guard tour is a simple way to document proof of presence during security rounds. But how do you know for sure that staff members are being as thorough as you’d expect them to be? How can an officer properly determine an inmate’s well-being if they’re only expected to check if the body is physically where it’s supposed to be? The answer is, you can’t. One downfall of traditional guard tour is focused on checking specific locations rather than inmates, risking the possibility of losing lawsuits that could have otherwise been won.

The first way to improve standard guard tour is to find a system that allows your documentation to be inmate specific. An officer can’t prove whether or not an inmate is alive by just checking for presence at a specific location. There needs to be visible signs of life to truly identify the well-being of an inmate. Once an officer has that interaction, they can take more accurate and detailed behavioral notes, which is more helpful to combat complaints and lawsuits.

I was recently speaking to an officer from a jail in California about a death in custody that occurred a few years ago. This jail had been using guard tour and could demonstrate perfect compliance. They were able to prove that officers were present in front of inmate housing units every 30 minutes, but when they had a death in custody, the jail lost the lawsuit.

The inmate had been dead for 8 hours. Officers walked past the cell 16 times before realizing what had happened. Now, the officers had been technically meeting compliance--they walked in front of each cell every 30 minutes and checked for the inmates at their location, but it wasn’t enough. Even with 100% compliance, the officers didn’t identify the well-being of the deceased inmate during rounds. Their documentation ended up working against them instead of in their favor.

After the loss, this California-based jail realized a change needed to be made. They decided to update their policies and procedures to include inmate specific documentation. Since the update, officers are required to document at least three behavioral notes about each inmate during their rounds. For example, an officer could specify that inmate John Doe 1) appears asleep, 2) is laying on left side, and 3) his chest is rising and falling. Since the new policy has been put into action, no deaths in custody have occurred.

Inmate specific documentation proves that officers are checking on the inmate’s well-being, which is not possible with standard guard tour procedures. Having information specific to the inmate rather than location is an important distinction when trying to prove no deliberate indifference.


Once a jail decides to collect inmate specific data, it needs to determine the method. Many facilities initially consider using their JMS provider--after rounds are completed, the officer goes back to the computer and type notes for each inmate. Although a more simple option, it raises a few concerns.

One concern is that officers will begin spending more time looking at a computer screen rather than keeping an eye on and interacting with the inmates. Between the end of one round to the beginning of the next, officers will be spending a majority of their time typing into their JMS. Command staff want their officers watching and interacting with inmates, not typing and looking at a screen.

Another is the continued compliance of officers and the quality of notes being taken. Here are a few scenarios that may take place.

  • An officer is a slow typer and gets frustrated. They’ll likely end up taking minimal notes if anything at all
  • Use of “copy” and “paste” to speed up note taking
  • Officers think it’s a waste of time and choose not to record anything
  • Officers become less productive as they are constantly going back and forth between the inmates and the computer.
  • Officer forgot something from the time they checked inmate to when they returned to the computer--information is missing

Implementing a mobile solution can help jails significantly decrease the amount of time officers spend looking at a screen and take one step further in maximizing legal defensibility.

When doing security rounds with a mobile solution, officers have the device on their person. They can document inmate specific notes as soon as they’re witnessed, not when they have time to go back to a computer.

When doing a cell check, an officer can scan the location tag (through QR code, barcode, or RFID), select the correct inmate, and type in their observations. Some mobile platforms have predefined behavioral notes so the description can be quickly selected rather than typed out, and others even have the option to use voice-to-text.

Yes, a mobile device still has a screen, but if the platform is sophisticated enough, officers shouldn’t need to look down for more than a split second to record notes on each inmate. It can be done between cells, so officers aren’t taking their eyes away from inmates. I suggest utilizing a voice-to-text feature when recording notes because it only requires an officer to look down at the device for no more than a second or two. They can look at an inmate talk into the device for notes simultaneously.

When data is being collected while completing their rounds, officers are more inclined to provide notes in full detail and be less likely to forget important information. Notes taken on a mobile device is also legible, a common issue with handwritten notes. All those factors make your facility much more equipped to be legally defensible and ultimately save money on inmate grievances and death in custody lawsuits.

Quick and Easy Reporting

It’s great to have all this inmate-specific, detailed data, but you also consider how the platform generates reports. The key is to find a solution that easily and quickly generates insightful reports. When you have to pull compliance for unannounced audits, pull inmate history for court cases, or create incident reports for state agencies, the last thing you want to do is spend hours finding, downloading, sorting, and compiling the needed documentation.

I suggest that jails find a solution that centralizes their information--retrieve reports quickly. A good platform will allow its users to pull numerous types of reports well under 30 seconds. If that’s not possible, you might want to consider looking for a new platform.

There are generally two ways the data can be stored--it’s either cloud-based or on locally hosted servers. Standardizing on a private, U.S. based cloud service removes the need to plug in, download, print, or scan any needed information. Platforms storing data locally hosted servers may require the information to be uploaded into the system by plugging in the mobile device to an on-site computer. Both options significantly decrease the amount of time that command staff has to spend pulling and compiling reports. What used to take a few hours, can now take only a few seconds to a few minutes (depending on how the data is stored).

Final Thoughts

Upping your documentation game from guard tour to a mobile platform that has inmate specific data and quick reporting will positively impact your officers and your wallet. Platforms that have all three components encourage officers to be more engaged with the inmates, making them more proactive and productive. Increased interaction with inmates leads to more detailed, accurate notes. When those behavioral notes can be quickly compiled into an insightful report, jails are more equipped to defeat inmate complaints and litigation, ultimately saving a serious chunk of change.