By Paul Baze, MPA, CJM, CCT, NJLCA

Security rounds, watch tour, guard tour, block check, cell check, headcount... There are many names for this practice. I know that we are creative people in Corrections and we like to make up bad-ass names for many things, like “sallyport,” “prison punch,” or “jail purse.” (If you have a marvelous name for rounds let me know.) No matter what you call rounds, they are mission-critical to safety and security.

At the end of the day, we all have someone checking our jail’s compliance against some standard. States like Minnesota and Texas have strict guidelines from the state jail audit board while other states have more lenient systems and ultimately the auditor is just John Q. Voting Public. No matter who is checking, jail rounds are critical for adequate inmate supervision. Officers must continually check the safety of all doors, fixtures, and safety features, as well as being present and checking on the inmate population. This is why high round compliance matters. It doesn’t matter how you track compliance: paper, pen, video, or digital logs. The purpose of this article is to highlight that round compliance is one of the most crucial tasks to perform in corrections and to provide jails with the tools to achieve 100% round compliance. This demands sound policy, good communication, and consistent supervision to execute properly.

Does jail size matter in gaining 100% compliance?

A common question is asked throughout the entire industry of corrections about how jail size effects reaching 100% compliance. The overall viewpoint is that 100% compliance is not attainable because of the unique situations facilities of all different sizes face. The common belief is that small jails cannot attain high compliance because of staff shortages, the shared responsibility of all jail duties among few officers, poor employee job performance (and no way to correct it because we can't fix or fire them), no real need to gain high compliance numbers, and all inmates can be seen from control. Large jails face these issues on a larger scale, but they are essentially the same root problems.

The American Jail Association published this snippet on their website. “Mega jails have a 1,000-plus bed capacity. Large jails have a 250- to 999-bed capacity. Medium jails have a 50- to 249-bed capacity. Small jails have a 1- to 49-bed capacity. Small jails make up the largest percentage of local correctional facilities, followed by medium, large, and mega, respectively.” None of this matters. I had the opportunity to attend the National Jail Leadership Command Academy (NJLCA) Class #27, in Huntsville Texas. (Anecdotally, NJLCA is one of the best comprehensive programs for jail leaders, I left with many actionable skills and a meaningful network of corrections professionals).

During NJLCA, the jail diversity was drastic from small 10 bed facilities to 10,000+ inmates. Jails of all sizes are facing similar problems. Sure the size of the facility certainly has implications of manpower and workflow, as well as regional unique problems. 100% rounds compliance can be achieved by adhering to best practices of jail management. No matter the jail size. In the next section we talk about the basics and best practices of getting to 100%.

What are the basics of getting to 100% Round Compliance?

In your agencies journey to gain round compliance, keep in mind that like most things in life these are long term changes that need a heavy initial staff and time investment, followed by moderate to light monitoring and massaging once everyone is trained. Some of these are culture shifts that will take time and effort from the entire department. In this section, I am going to cover rounds documentation techniques, the officer’s role in rounds (besides doing the rounds), the supervisor’s role, and the administrator’s role.

How does my method of data collection affect my compliance?

The most common method of collecting rounds data in jails is pen and paper, closely followed by jail management log entries, and mobile rounds monitoring solutions. The method used does impact the efficiency and accuracy of monitoring rounds and calculating compliance.

Paper and Pen

Paper and pen is the most widely used system in jails and prisons. There are some critical downsides to paper. Paper logs can easily be “pencil whipped” and is a trust-based system with verification being a time-intensive video review. Deciphering officer’s entries are as bad as reading a doctor’s handwriting. This bad handwriting weakens legal defense. Not only is deciphering a new skill to teach supervisors but they now have to track down missing entries, missing logs, and spend time looking through boxes of paper that may not actually contain the information you are looking for. Those boxes of paper have to be categorized and stored in a secure location. Jails’ most frequent complaint of paper in pencil is summed up in an old corrections adage “If it’s not documented, it never happened”.

Jail Management Log

The jail management system log is a step towards improving some pen and paper downfalls. The logs are digitally time-stamped, with no handwriting to decipher, no physical storage of logs, and it’s much easier and less time-intensive to generate insightful reports. A few downsides to the JMS log is that you must have a computer at each officer’s workstation, which can be costly. The officer spends a lot of time tethered to a workstation and the log can be easily neglected during officer rounds. There is also the time-consuming process of rounds verification through video, as a log entry is timestamped there is no proof of physical presence in the housing units. Another time-consuming activity is calculating the time between scans and verifying that each officer on shift completed the rounds within the appropriate frequency and timeframe. Not all JMS systems are built the same, so accessing your rounds data is complex or just not user-friendly and missing logs or mislabeled logs create accuracy and efficiency barriers.

Mobile Inmate Tracking

Mobile inmate tracking systems are the best solutions on the market to standardize and create accurate, defensible and efficient rounds documentation. For a great document on inmate tracking systems check out our blog explaining Who are GUARDIAN RFID's Competitors? Mobile inmate tracking begins by giving officers a tool to track proof of presence in the inmate housing units, without pencil whipping a check. The time of the check is recorded when the officer scans a physical sensor that is bolted to the physical plant. This physical presence creates a much more defensible case in litigation and grievance resolutions. The mobile scan does not make your officer do their job better, it just makes them comply. Make sure to pick a solution that allows forced checks on flagged special status or special watch inmates. The mobile solution does get the officer out of their chair and in some solutions have built-in timers that force officers to complete checks on locations based on a maximum check time and risk level. This functionality really only exists on solutions that are wirelessly connected so the data is displayed in near real-time. Another useful tool is inmate based data collection, some vendors offer an integration with the JMS to provide specific inmate data and current location so the offender log can be updated with specific observations for high risk or special watch inmates. Mobile inmate tracking creates the opportunity for documentation of risks like meals, recreation, supplies, and movements. What better defense than having a specific log that shows every interaction that an officer has had with an offender. Mobile inmate tracking is the path of least resistance to get officers to collect critical data that is needed to prove the jail has met its constitutional requirements to the inmate population.

How do officers affect compliance?

I wish that this was a cut and dry answer. Officers are the ones working the floors, mingling with inmates, solving problems, completing rounds, checks, movements, sometimes passing medication, handling medical emergencies, and being counselors.

Achieving 100% compliance comes down to an officer’s understanding of the facility’s mission, vision, and values. This largely lands on the backs of the facility supervisors. We will talk about that later in the article (yes, compliance does largely depend on the officers’ supervision, I hope that doesn't surprise you). Officers working the floors need a few tools to make them the most efficient at their job. If your officers are struggling with getting checks complete, we have a few areas to look at.

First, look at the requirements that we have placed on our officers. Make sure that your officers’ main focus is on security rounds. I will be the first person to tell you that we have a staffing crisis in corrections. Limit the hats our officers wear. If “other duties as assigned” are impacting the main job of safety and security, stop assigning those job duties, or provide coaching and resources that allow the officer to get the job done.

In job socialization and training, ensure officers know physical plant, they should know every nook and cranny of the jail. Each post should have clear, written post orders for each shift. Jails are terribly monotonous and predictable. Once the job expectations are met, we can teach our officers to manage their time. This way they can handle the emergencies that pop up with speed and efficiency. Finally, we need to instill that they must prioritize checks. Rinse wash and repeat. When everything is taken into consideration, officers are ultimately responsible for getting the checks done, but they need leadership, guidance, mentorship and clear expectation of the job.

What role do my supervisors play in getting to 100% compliance?

Everything! Supervisors are the backbone of a correctional facility! Officers are directly impacted by the supervision they receive. If you have a squad that is known for coming in late all the time, take a look at the sergeant. When the Sergeant is consistently late, they will never appropriately discipline their officers for being late. Appoint competent supervision, and supervise the supervisors. The facility chain of command needs to mean something.

“The Peter Principle,” by Laurence J. Peter, explains that we promote people to their highest level of incompetence. So we promote good officers who show leadership ability. We promote corporals who are great corporals and show leadership ability. We promote Sergeants to Lieutenants. Often times these promotions are because they were really good at their current position but might flounder upon promotion. Often times we disregard bad fit and keep them in the job to “let them cut their teeth” or “get their sea legs” when in reality we need to demote and appoint someone who will be able to handle the demanding job duties of the position.

Also, invest in your people. Make sure your newly appointed people have leadership mentors, and training to be a sergeant, lieutenant or commander. I almost had a hard attack when my sheriff asked me what to do, a lowly Sergeant. But he recognized that even him, our highest law enforcement official, could use some help. Give your supervisors the ability to make a decision and support that decision. All too often front line supervisors are overruled and are marginalized. This is mainly because “they didn't think of the bigger picture”. Teach your staff what that bigger picture is. Let them be a part of the big picture. The more supervisors know the better decisions they make.

Let your officers make mistakes! Policies should be clear and concise so that officers know what is expected of them. If your policy manual is like reading a law book, scrap it and make it easier. And post orders: they’re a handy tool to guide misguided officers toward the path to get the job done correctly. However, when mistakes are made make sure that they are addressed swiftly and efficiently. Officers need to talk through what happens so that they know exactly what mistake was made and to ensure that they know the consequences of doing it again. If they are in constant fear of losing their jobs, they’ll never learn. This actually creates officers who are too risk averse, they rarely make decisions and are prone to inaction. Empower your staff to make decisions by making mistakes coaching and learning events.

Tools for getting to 100% compliance.

Getting to 100% compliance is possible. At the end of the day it comes down to a few checklist items. These are not quick fixes. Some of these are cultural changes that will take time and dedication to implement. None of these take effect in a vacuum. Other people from your team need buy-in and help to make these changes. Getting to 100% comprises prioritizing what matters. Rounds, employees, competent supervision and quality of data collection. If you find yourself on this journey feel free to reach out to me We can talk about tactics and ways to get to compliance.