U.S. Department of Justice

Correctional Policy and Procedure

Correctional agencies all have the need to produce clear and concise written directives for staff, offenders, and the community. Given the issues of administrative liability, accreditation standards, case law, and the need to support professional behavior, written policy and procedure is a necessity.

Well-written policy and procedure is the core of modern correctional operations. It informs and governs staff behavior, sets clear expectations, and confirms that the administration has performed its role. It is also the basis for staff supervision, training, and supporting a defense when things go wrong.

Correctional policy needs to be grounded in a defensible rationale so that it is not simply based on whim or preference. Policy should relate to a “legitimate correctional outcome,” prevailing standards, or the goal that implementing a policy seeks to achieve. “Legitimate correctional outcomes” are things such as safety, security, sanitation, inmate welfare, inmate rights, due process, etc, that the courts spoke of in the 1980’s.

Standards, whether from the American Correctional Association (ACA) Accreditation standards, National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) accreditation standards, or from another source, become an excellent means of documenting the rationale for a policy, although it is also a good practice to dig a little deeper to also cite the correctional outcome that the standard and policy supports.

Specific case law that applies in your locale can also be a good way to ground policy. Since policy can be prescriptive, an operational problem needing to be solved, or the introduction of a new piece of equipment or technology can be the basis for the rationale.

Policy Format Concepts

There are several policy formats in use. Whatever format you use, it needs to answer a few strategic questions:

  • Policy answers “what,” as if to say, "This is what we stand for, this is what we do." It is the written directive around a particular issue or topic. Policy statements should be in plain language so there is no confusion over meaning.

  • Purpose answers “why.” It is the rationale and basis for adopting the policy, documenting that it is grounded in more than preference or administrative whim.

  • Procedure answers “how” an agency needs to implement the policy, using step-by-step, precise language.

  • References provide background and sources behind the policy and serve as supporting documentation.

    Review and Approval

    A policy is not official until it is formally issued with a signature and a date. General correctional policies can be approved by the agency CEO or administrator. Some specialty policies or policy sections that go beyond general correctional issues should be co-signed, along with the CEO or administrator, as reviewed and approved for use by an entity having expertise in the area. For example, the medical services section should be reviewed and approved by the agency’s medical director or provider; mental health policies should be reviewed and approved by the mental health provider; and fire safety policy and plans should be reviewed and approved by the fire authority having jurisdiction.

Recommended Reading

Date Title Type
Document 029747
Gender-Responsive Policy Development in Corrections: What We Know and Roadmaps for Change
By King, Erica; Foley, Jillian E.. National Institute of Corrections (NIC). Community Services Division (Washington, DC).
"Correctional policy and procedure drives decisions in the management and rehabilitation of offender populations. The continuously emerging research on female offenders highlights differences from their male counterparts, particularly in the areas of health, mental health, substance abuse and risk. Yet correctional policies rarely reflect those differences and where adaptations are made it is often not in policy or directive, contributing to tremendous inconsistency in the management of women of... Read More
7 pages
Document 018679
Developing and Revising Detention Facility Policies and Procedures
By Martin, Mark D.. National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC).
This guide assists local detention administrators in developing and revising their policy and procedure manuals. Following an introduction, this manual addresses: the development and revision process; developing policies and procedures; preparing the manual; policy and procedure implementation; monitoring staff compliance; and maintaining the manual. Appendixes provide: a sample policy and procedure manual topic outline; a scenario planning worksheet; examples of policies and procedures from d... Read More
35 p.
Document 016368
Policy and Procedures Development
By Bounds, Bruce. National Institute of Corrections Jail Center (Boulder, CO).
Guidelines for the creation of mission statements, policies, and procedures are presented. The contents of this document include: critiques of individual policies for inmate rules and regulations, commissary orders, reporting of maintenance problems, and night lock-up of residents; mission statement -- definition, rationale, and development criteria; policy and procedures -- definitions and rationale; policy and procedure content elements; policy construction criteria; procedure construction cri... Read More
18 p.
Document 020159
Resource Manual for Transition to a New Jail
By Elias, Gail; Milosovich, John. National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC). Voorhis Associates (Lafayette, CO); National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC).
"[T]his resource document will assist agencies starting the process of planning for a successful transition to a new detention facility" (p. iii). Nine chapters comprise this manual: introduction; transitional management; construction; staff/human resources; document development; training and orientation; furniture, fixtures, equipment, and supplies; move logistics; and transition themes of managing change and community relations.... Read More
210 p.
Document 016858
Responding to Parole and Probation Violations: A Handbook to Guide Local Policy Development
By Carter, Madeline M.. National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC). Center for Effective Public Policy (Silver Spring, MD); National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC).
This handbook discusses policy responses to probation and parole violations that enhance the effectiveness of supervision while also improving community safety. Chapters include:
  • Critical issues in violations -- an overview;
  • The importance of vision, mission, goals, and core values;
  • Collaboration -- a central ingredient for success;
  • Developing baseline information;
  • Supervision;
  • Developing tools to make the policy work;
  • Increasing available choices to violation response;<... Read More
101 pages
Document 017925
Staff Sexual Misconduct with Inmates: Policy Development Guide for Sheriffs and Jail Administrators
By McCampbell, Susan W.; Fischer, Larry S.. National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC). Center for Innovative Public Policies (Tamarac, FL); National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC).
Tools to assess an organization and implement strategies to prevent staff sexual misconduct in a jail setting are provided. The following sections comprise this document: introduction; using this guide; how to know if an agency needs a policy -- what staff sexual misconduct is, definitions, red flags, and writing policies and procedures; and agency triage -- administrative and management practices, security and supervision, investigations, and inmate programming.... Read More
41 p.

Related Resources

Date Title Type
Document 031374
LGBT Youth in Juvenile Justice: Creating Agency Policies for an Equitable System Webinar
By Gilbert, Christina; Belmarsh, Lisa; Garnette, Laura. The Equity Project (Washington, DC); Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) (Washington, DC).
"Many juvenile justice systems don't know how many young people in their system identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) and often lack appropriate policies that meet their unique needs … This webinar discussed the need for agency policies to support LGBT young people in the juvenile justice system. Participants learned how the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services [DYS] and Santa Clara County Probation Department [SCCPD] developed policies for LGBT youth in their system, a... Read More

61 minutes
Document 028223
Transgender and Other Gender Non-Conforming Employee Policy
U.S. Dept. of the Interior (DOI). Office of the Secretary (Washington, DC).
This is an excellent resource to use as a template for creating a policy within your agency regarding support for transgender and other gender non-conforming staff, and in particular the transitioning of transgender personnel. This policy "outlines the Department of the Interior (Department) policy regarding support for transgender and other gender non-conforming employees" (p. 1). Procedures explain: responsibilities of the various agency departments and staff; transition plan; restroom, locker... Read More
10 pages
Document 027584
Review of the Use of Segregation for ICE Detainees
U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) (Washington, DC).
“This directive establishes policy and procedures for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) review of ICE detainees placed into segregated housing … Placement of detainees in segregated housing is a serious step that requires careful consideration of alternatives. Placement in segregation should occur only when necessary and in compliance with applicable detention standards. In particular, placement in administrative segregation due to a special vulnerability should be used only as a la... Read More
13 pages
Document 026701
A Quick Guide for LGBTI Policy Development for Youth Confinement Facilities
National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC). The Moss Group, Inc. (Washington, DC); National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC).
“This Quick Guide will help agencies and facilities develop a comprehensive response to working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) youth. It is not meant to provide an answer to every question or an in-depth discussion of all issues that agencies face or that the LGBTI population faces while in custody. It provides an overview of the important issues that agencies should consider when working to house and treat LGBTI youth in a way that is safe and consistent with an a... Read More
24 pages
Document 021767
Policies Prohibiting Staff-Felon Relationships
By Smith, Brenda V.; Simonian, Nairi M.. National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC). NIC/WCL Project on Addressing Prison Rape (Washington, DC); American University. Washington College of Law (Washington, DC); National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC).
Case law concerning the relationships of correctional officers and inmates in prison or in the community is discussed. Sections of this memorandum include: background; brief answer -- it is permissible to limit staff inmate relationships; case law in the Ninth Circuit; Freedom of Association case law in other jurisdictions; exceptions to the majority view; and conclusion with seven tips for developing a policy prohibiting staff-offender relations.... Read More
15 p.
Document 017521
Correctional Health Care: Guidelines for the Management of an Adequate Delivery System
By Anno, B. Jaye. National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC). National Commission on Correctional Health Care (Chicago, IL); National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC).
A comprehensive reference that provides guidance in the provision of health services to inmates is presented. This manual contains the following chapters: introduction; historical overview -- the movement to improve correctional health care; legal considerations in the delivery of health care services in prisons and jails; ethical considerations and the interface with custody; the organizational structure of correctional health services; staffing considerations; health care delivery system model... Read More
570 pages
Document 011671
Chronic Care Clinics: Protocols and Clinic Procedures
By Hipkens, James H.; Krause, Kathryn; Lamarre, Madeleine. National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC). Georgia Dept. of Corrections (Atlanta, GA).
Chronic care clinic procedures and protocols are provided for the following areas: cardiovascular, diabetes mellitus, gastrointestinal, hypertension, infectious disease, seizure, pulmonary, tuberculosis infection, and men's and women's wellness clinics. The document, "Drug Formulary," by the Georgia Department of Corrections is included.... Read More
153 p.
Document 010043
Briefing Paper: Trends in Jail Privatization
National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC). National Institute of Corrections Information Center (Boulder, CO); LIS, Inc. (Boulder, CO).
This briefing paper provides an overview of trends in jail privatization as evident in the following models: private management, development of a facility by the private sector, and private sector services provision. The author summarizes pro and con arguments, growth trends and the current extent of privatization in jails. Appendix A presents policy statements on corrections privatization from the American Jail Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, t... Read More
24 p.
Document 003197
Correctional Officer's Guide: Patuxent Institution, Jessup, Maryland
By Cheatwood, Derral. National Institute of Corrections (Washington, DC). Patuxent Institution (Jessup, MD).
... Read More

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