Policies and procedures are very important. All well-trained and experienced individuals in corrections and law enforcement know this. Well trained administrators also know that their agencies will be judged directly on how staff conforms to their established policies and procedures.
Simply Having Documentation May No Longer Be Enough
What you may not know is that recent civil rights cases have taken the issue to the highest degree possible. It is no longer just an issue of whether a department has policies and procedures. Prevalent issues currently being adjudicated in Federal and State court cases ask two additional questions: Are the staff being trained on the policy and procedures and are the policy and procedures enforced?
Most often, agencies have some form of written policies and procedures. When questioned, however, many agencies fail to regularly review and update their policies and procedures. Further, agencies often show that staff received initial training, but fail to keep adequate records of regularly continuing retraining or updated training. Finally, agencies must demonstrate enforcement of the policies and procedures, when necessary.
When asked to demonstrate enforcement, agencies are asked to provide actions taken against staff members who have violated policy and procedures. It is critical to note that this does not necessarily mean that agencies must show that they terminate anyone who violates a policy. Managers are given a wide latitude in this regard as long as they can later show that they actually do enforce their policies. Reprimands, counseling by leadership, and required remedial training are other good options if they are then documented.
What If There’s No Written Policy?
Some agencies have no written policies or documented procedures, often leaving officers to operate without clear directives. There is an increasing amount of litigation against these agencies, claiming the actionable handling, or mishandling, of inmates’ issues violates constitutional standards and is a direct result of those agencies’ patterns and practices. In such cases, these agencies find themselves defending each and every action without the ability to point to the measuring stick of established policies and procedures.
Correctional managers must take an extra step in developing their policies and procedures, beyond that of their general law enforcement counterpart. Their documents must have an identified penological interest. Failure to enumerate such a penological interest may subject the policy or procedure to judicial scrutiny for constitutional violation. To avoid such scrutiny, many agencies are including a clearly-written penological interest statement within their written documentation, often just below the policy statement itself.
Need Improved Policies and Procedures?
Agencies without written policies or documented procedures, or those looking to improve their written documentation, can find well written and trial tested policies and procedures sets via OSS Law Enforcement Advisors. These can be adapted to fit an agency’s specific needs and requirements.