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Correctional Policy and Procedure

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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.