Using Contractors in Correctional Facilities: Key Policy Considerations

by | June 15, 2018

Facing tight budgets and limited qualified candidates, many correctional facilities use contractors to provide services such as commissary, health care and education. Contracted services can help cut overhead and free correctional officers to focus on what they do best. But using contractors can also create the need for additional policies or procedures to ensure smooth operation and maintain a high level of professionalism and accountability.

Selecting a contracted service can be a complicated matter. Appropriate care should be given to selecting a reputable provider that has a proven record and a reasonable library of policies and procedures already in place. However, agencies must not overlook the need for their own policies. Even if you’re using a contractor to provide a service, you’ll likely still need a policy in your facility’s manual that addresses the basics.

Following are some key policy considerations when using contractors in correctional facilities:

Use Precise Definitions

Facilities that employ contractors and full-time employees must take care to author policies and procedures in a precise way that makes clear to whom the policy refers. At Lexipol, we accomplish this in our Definitions section at the beginning of the manual. We distinguish between employees and members.

  • Employees—Those who get paid by the governmental unit and may receive benefits (this may include sworn and non-sworn personnel).
  • Members—Those who have a looser arrangement with the governmental unit (this may include volunteers, interns, reserves and contractors).

Another way to look at it: All employees are members, but not all members are employees. Generally, contracted services are categorized as members. Defining these terms up front and using them consistently throughout your policy manual is important because member and employer rights and responsibilities may differ depending on whether the member is also an employee.

Contracted Services Don’t Eliminate Liability

Many state laws place responsibilities on the jail administrator or warden to provide basic services to inmates. By utilizing a contracted service, the jail administrator is delegating that responsibility. Delegation does not indemnify the delegator. If the contracted service does not satisfy the state-mandated requirements, the jail administrator may likely still be named in a complaint or lawsuit, or in a worst-case scenario, a criminal case. Checks and balances should be in place to monitor the contracted service provider and ensure minimum standards are met.

Contracted Services Don’t Eliminate Responsibilities

Let’s take health care services as an example: If your facility uses a contractor to administer health care, there still are plenty of times when sworn staff may need to provide health care to inmates. This can include anything from a basic health assessment when an inmate is booked into jail or during classification, first aid immediately following a violent incident, using an automated external defibrillator, or when a health care provider is not otherwise available, such as during off-site transport.

All of this means that employees will still need some basic level of training in a variety of scenarios but will defer to contracted staff when they are available or if the situation requires a higher level of care. The contracted service provider becomes your local expert, but you still need to maintain enough practitioners to allow for day-to-day operation.

Contracted Services May Create Additional Responsibilities

The inclusion of contracted service providers with little or no jail training may require the need for additional security measures. A sworn member will likely need to be assigned to a clinic or triage area for constant security. If numerous or high-risk inmates are present, security may need to escalate to a one-to-one level of supervision.

There’s also the management and control of medical implements that could be used as weapons or would generally be considered contraband. Additional inventories may be necessary.

Contracted service providers are granted access to your facility, which can allow for the introduction of weapons or contraband. This may require additional security needs, such as checkpoints or searches. All this could create additional strain upon your sworn staff.

Interagency Policies and Procedures

If contracted services are part of your day-to-day operations, it will be necessary for you and the service provider to agree on some overarching policies and procedures. This may include how the organizations communicate requests to each other and hold shortcomings accountable.

Lexipol recommends a collaborative approach when creating or modifying policies that may affect both organizations. Both sides need to appreciate the other and have a solid understanding of how the other side functions.

The use of contractors in correctional facilities can reduce costs and help your facility deliver services outside the realm of your sworn staff. But it’s a mistake to think that using contractors absolves you of policy and procedure responsibilities. Take a proactive approach to developing policies that work seamlessly between your staff and any contractors you use.

GREGG SATULA is a manager in the Professional Services division of Lexipol, where he works with law enforcement and custody agencies across the United States implementing Lexipol manuals and addressing policy updates.

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