Why Supervisor Rounds in Your Jail or Prison Facility Are Crucial
Jeff Kovar, Strategic Account Executive at Guardian RFID, shares his career experience of roughly 20 years and how he learned first-hand the importance of supervisor rounds inside of correctional facilities.
An Average Supervisor vs. an Engaged Supervisor
When Jeff first became a jail supervisor in 2003, he was required to take a 40-hour supervisor course. Upon completion, he was assigned to work with one of the veteran supervisors. For approximately two months, he shadowed his training supervisor and learned the basic responsibilities and expectations of a supervisor.
During that time, Jeff learned what paperwork required a supervisor’s signature, how to respond to disturbances, and how to complete the shift schedule and payroll. He was also instructed to make two supervisor rounds per shift. However, he discovered that a supervisor round was not clearly defined in their policies and procedures. Jeff didn’t know if he was required to walk through every housing unit in the facility, or just some of them. Was he required to inspect every cell, or just check in with the housing unit officer and make sure they didn’t need anything?
So, Jeff did what most supervisors did: he did exactly what he was shown by his supervisor that trained him. Jeff walked around the facility and only spot-checked things. If an officer had an issue, he dealt with it, and if there was an inmate with a question, he answered it. But other than just spot-checking, there wasn’t a way to record anything he witnessed.
After each supervisor round, Jeff would go back to his office, wait for a call, and respond when staff requested the presence of a supervisor. His supervisors didn’t ever audit his supervisor rounds, nor did they ever tell him to do anything different, so he continued doing this process for many years. However, Jeff noticed a problem with this process, specifically the management philosophy. He believed that the supervisor rounds weren’t thorough enough, and supervisors were reacting to problems instead of proactively identifying and addressing the issues in advance.
Over the next 18 years, Jeff’s experience taught him the difference between an average supervisor and an engaged supervisor. An average supervisor does their job but with the lowest level of effort necessary to accomplish the required task. Engaged supervisors go above and beyond by regularly walking around the facility and not being afraid to have those uncomfortable coaching discussions with their staff when their behavior needs to be corrected.
Later in Jeff’s career, his agency developed the philosophy of “Inspect What You Expect.” This meant supervisors were expected to use “Walk Around Management” and not only check on the staff, but also check on the welfare of the inmates. Supervisors would walk inside the housing units, inspect each cell, and make sure all policies, procedures, and guidelines posted in the Inmate Handbook were being followed. This practice enabled supervisors to interact and become changemakers within the facility. It showed new and veteran staff alike that the supervisors knew how to complete their tasks, but they also had a driven purpose for doing it. This, in turn, helped the supervisors learn what areas were the busiest. If staff were struggling to keep up with their duties, the supervisors were aware and had the opportunity to jump in and actively help or reassign additional staff, if available, to lighten the overall workload.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Now being a Strategic Account Executive, Jeff was recently in a jail and was speaking with the Jail Administrator about supervisor rounds. When asked whether the Jail Administrator had an expectation for his supervisors making rounds on all shifts, he replied: “Our policy says they make rounds on all shifts, but we really do not enforce this policy.” Jeff couldn’t help but think to himself, “What is the purpose of having a policy that you do not enforce?”
When supervisors do not make rounds, minor problems tend to worsen and develop into larger-scale issues. Inmates do not have access to supervisors and do not have an easy way to voice their grievances. Officers without proper supervision are likely to do whatever they want (or as little as they want). Unfortunately, in many instances, officer misconduct and neglect will occur, which may include activities such as surfing the internet, excessively talking on the phone, sleeping on duty, introducing contraband, or having inappropriate relationships with inmates.
Let’s look at the Jeffrey Epstein case as an example. Officers Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, who were assigned to Epstein’s special housing unit during the overnight shift, both admitted falsifying documents that claimed they had conducted cell patrols. In reality, they appeared to be sleeping, wandering about the office common area, or browsing the Internet (Johnson, 2021). Their negligence resulted in an in-custody death that quickly caught the media’s attention.
Supervisor presence is critical to creating and maintaining a safe and secure facility. Just like first line supervisors, Jail Administrators must also “Inspect What They Expect.” A jail policy is only as good as the administrator enforcing it and holding staff accountable. If a significant event occurs in your facility, such as in-custody death, one of the first things attorneys will look for is whether policy was followed. Jail Administrators must have the ability to monitor their first line supervisors’ activity quickly and easily, and ensure they’re following the agency policy pertaining to supervisor rounds. Failure to do so can expose the agency to increased liability.
What Does a Supervisor Round Look Like?
The definition of a supervisor round and frequency of occurrence will differ from facility to facility based on the size and the number of supervisors on duty. However, every agency policy should clearly define and outline the expectation of supervisor rounds. A well-known best practice is to schedule at least one supervisor per shift, making a round in every housing location. This gives inmates adequate access to supervisors and gives supervisors the ability to regularly “Inspect What They Expect” and coach their staff when necessary.
Throughout Jeff’s career in corrections, PREA Auditing, and as a Strategic Account Executive with Guardian RFID, he has had the opportunity to tour and inspect over a hundred correctional facilities, including prisons, jails, community confinement, and juvenile facilities. He has seen many well-run facilities as well as struggling facilities. One of the most common pain points he has discovered in the struggling facilities is the ability to adequately define the expectation of supervisor rounds. More specifically, the staff were having difficulty consistently auditing their supervisors’ activity and holding them accountable.
In many facilities, Jeff has discovered supervisors do not make rounds in all housing units on every shift. Some supervisors make rounds in the same locations every day and avoid problem area housing units, such as Administrative Segregation, Disciplinary Housing, and Mental Health Housing Units. The supervisor may walk around the housing unit or may just check in at the officers’ workstations. Supervisors document their rounds by signing the round into the officers’ handwritten logbooks. As you can imagine, it is extremely difficult for a Jail Administrator to audit their supervisors’ activity and know whether their supervisors are making accurate rounds according to their agency policy and administrator’s expectations.
How Can You Digitize This Responsibility?
Wouldn’t it be convenient if you could take all those paper logbooks and put them into a digital format to quickly, efficiently, and accurately audit your supervisor rounds and know exactly what your supervisors did during their shift? You can! The technology already exists!
Guardian RFID gives you the ability to take all the information logged within the Spartan handheld device, including supervisor rounds, and democratizes the data into usable audit reports that are easy to understand. With a few clicks of a button, you can select a data range and click on a supervisor’s name and see all rounds (and other activity) the supervisor logged within the handheld device. You can see the location of the rounds, what time of the day they were made, and how often they occurred.
For example, if you have a policy where a supervisor can walk into the housing unit and walk by each cell, you can confirm if this occurred by locating which Guardian RFID Hard Tags the supervisor scanned. If you have a policy where a supervisor can visit all housing locations, you can identify whether this occurred by seeing if the Hard Tags for all housing locations were scanned. If you have a policy where a supervisor avoids the problem area housing units, you can identify whether they are going into these housing units by monitoring which housing unit Hard Tags they scanned.
What's the Payoff by Digitizing the Supervisor Rounds?
When you call your supervisors into the office and show them an audit report of their rounds (or lack thereof), they quickly realize you can obtain their precise activity. Some supervisors who show a lack of rounds may get defensive and claim they are too busy and don’t have time to make rounds. Note that you can easily disprove this claim by showing them audit reports from other supervisors who are making their rounds according to policy.
Guardian RFID Audit Reports speak for themselves and work as a silent hand in guiding all supervisors to be more efficient, more active, and conduct more frequent and thorough supervisor rounds. The reports also provide administrators the ability to identify if there is, in fact, a need for additional supervisory staff by showcasing data associated with missed rounds during specific times throughout every shift.
When you have supervisors who are actively walking around your facility, speaking with inmates and staff, and inspecting the facility, you have a well-managed facility and mitigate your agency’s risk. Supervisors can address inmate and staff grievances before they turn into major issues, coach officers and address policy violations, and inspect the overall facility for maintenance and/or cleanliness issues.
As previously mentioned, a policy is only as good as the administrator enforcing it. Administrators are extremely busy, and they need the tools which give them the ability to audit supervisor activity in a quick, efficient, and accurate manner. By digitizing your supervisor rounds, you can achieve all of this and make your facility more safe and secure.
Johnson, Kevin (2021). Jeffrey Epstein prison guards get no jail time regarding his death, falsifying documents
Kovar, Jeff | Strategic Account Executive at Guardian RFID