The Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office is the first Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana to implement Legal Based Jail Guidelines for the operation of the Washington Parish Jail. In fact, it is the first agency to do so throughout the Federal Fifth Judicial Circuit which encompasses Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.
Inmates in jails and prisons comprise less than 1% of this nation’s population, but are responsible for filing a large percentage of lawsuits in the Federal Courts. This reality presents a challenge for all law enforcement agencies which operate jails, including the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office.
There is an enormous body of law which applies to the operation of a local jail and it is that body of law that is used by any court in reaching a judicial decision. For that reason, it is important that jails be operated according to federal law, United States Supreme Court rulings, Federal circuit court rulings and state statutes. The only standards now available to local jail officials are “one size fits all” standards which are based on best practices and committee decisions rather than legal mandates.
That changed with the development of legal based jail guidelines by the National Institute for Jail Operations (NIJO), an arm of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA). As a result, comprehensive legal based policies will now be available to Louisiana Sheriffs and jail administrators based on laws and statutes applicable to Louisiana.
NIJO has been developing and implementing legal based guidelines for various circuits throughout the country; however, the 5th Circuit had not yet been included. Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal approached NIJO and offered the Washington Parish Jail to be the pilot jail in Louisiana and the 5th Circuit for the implementation of the legal based standards.
NIJO began the process of adapting the guidelines to be in compliance with 5th Circuit and Louisiana law and introduced the guidelines to the Sheriff’s Office at a March 10 training session for Washington Parish jail personnel. Texas jail personnel have asked that the guidelines be extended to their state also and it is expected that many Texas counties, in addition to Louisiana parishes, will adopt the new legal based guidelines.
A unique feature of the new guidelines is continuous updates as new court decisions are handed down. NIJO personnel monitor court decisions nationwide and update various guidelines which are affected by recent court decisions.
Tate McCotter, Executive Director of NIJO, traveled to Washington Parish and conducted training for Washington Parish jail officials as well as St. Tammany Parish and Natchitoches Parish officials who are considering implementation of the guidelines.
Washington Parish Chief Deputy Mike Haley, who has served as a trainer and expert witness for jail officials and Sheriff’s Offices throughout the nation, spoke of the operation of the Washington Parish Jail when Sheriff Seal took office in July 2012. “I’ve been in jails from the east coast to the west coast and was alarmed when I first viewed the operation of the Washington Parish Jail in the spring of 2012. It was an operational and legal disaster at that time. I was not surprised to learn that Sheriff Seal was inheriting several jail lawsuits from the previous administration. The Sheriff and Warden Jim Miller have done a great job in managing the jail and reducing inmate lawsuits. The implementation of the legal based guidelines is a giant step forward for our parish and will be a great asset to other jails throughout Louisiana.”
Sheriff Randy Seal also commented on the implementation of legal based guidelines in Washington Parish. “The new guidelines will be a great risk management tool for the operation of the jail and we are honored to be selected as the first jail in Louisiana and the entire 5th Circuit to implement them. Since they are web based, we can perform self-audits on the jail operation and our attorney can monitor what we are doing through online access. Warden Miller and his staff are to be commended for the many improvements they have made in the operation of the jail.”
Additional information on jail guidelines and jail officer training, as well as updates on jail issues is available online at www.jailtraining.org