Great​ ​Documentation​ ​Defeats​ ​Risk in​ ​Corrections

Here are four simple tips to attack the “if it isn’t logged it didn’t happen” challenge with the reality that you do far more in a day than you’re credited for.

One in every 10 inmates will complain about something (alright...that number might be higher). What they’ll allege, and how far they’re willing to take that complaint varies. And as every good Jail Administrator, Warden, and member of Command Staff know, line staff do more in a shift than you’ll be credited for.

So how do you balance all of your shift responsibilities and documentation needs with the amount of time you have in an eight or 12 hour shift?

Here are four simple tips to consider when it comes to stronger, better documentation.

1. Review and drive improvements to your policies and procedures that govern documentation.

If your policies and procedures related to daily activity logging:

  • Lack crystal clear clarity
  • Lack consistency with respect to enforcement
  • Lack supervisory oversight
  • Lack detail (either by staff member, shift, platoon, etc.)

or any of the above, then recommend to leadership revisions that create the efficiency and effectiveness you need. That can likely include eliminating paper logging, radio traffic to central control, and keystrokes into your jail management system or Word processor.

Stop manual logging.

2. Consider aggressively logging activities, events, and inmate observations -- even if it seems mundane at first.

Consistent, aggressive logging efforts aren’t dissimilar to the theory of community policing. By taking a systematic, proactive approach to what you’re documenting and how, you’ll effectively reduce inmate grievances quickly -- by as much as 50% in the first 60 days.

3. Recognize that over-logging isn’t bad.

We’ll hear from staff members that sometimes they can’t remember whether they logged a security check or cell check in a certain area of the jail. When in doubt, do it again. There’s no harm in double-logging. Has an inmate complained of a stomach ache for the third time in the last eight hours? Log it. And document what you did after each complaint. A benign stomach ache could be just that. It can also be telltale of a serious, underlying medical issue. Maybe their appendix is hours from rupturing. Who knows, you’re not a doctor. Avoid any argument of deliberate indifference: log the complaint and your response.

4. Decentralize all logging and foster personal and collective accountability for the quality of your documentation.

Some facilities rely on staff radioing to control room operators to log certain events or activities into a master logbook -- whether it’s in paper or electronic form. At the same time, the control room operator has to monitor and respond to calls and security cameras, and quarterback your access control system. Instead, consider decentralizing all logging efforts by using handheld scanners, such as SPARTAN.

By encouraging a mobile practice, all staff members are equally responsible for the success and failure of your documentation. This helps accelerate staff accountability for the quality of work being done. Remind staff that each team member is as legally responsible to address inmates allegations that they were not fed, offered recreation time, law library access, certified legal mail, their medications, or a host of other areas in which inmates are apt to complain. All of which, by the way, are routinely logged by Mobile Command software. :-)