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Leadership In

Implementing a Regional Jail

Annually we host many tours of commissioners, sheriffs and corrections directors from across Ohio and the United States. However, the curiosity seldom results in beds being built and the regional concept being embraced. This is quite perplexing and concerning based on our own success. Three regional jails have been added in Ohio in the last twelve years. A January 1992 National Institute of Corrections briefing paper on regional jails claims the chief obstacles to successful implementation of a true multi-jurisdictional jail are political rather than technical. These barriers can include:

    1. Absence of legal authority to permit the sharing of resources across jurisdictional lines;
    2. Turf issues and loss of authority and control by sheriffs and county governing bodies;
    3. Differences in management philosophies;
    4. Perceived inequities and proportionate sharing of costs;
    5. Lack of cooperation from judicial authorities;
    6. Increased transportation costs in geographically remote rural areas; and,
    7. Disagreement in the location of the jail.

Many of those issues were present during the forming of the Corrections Commission of Northwest Ohio as well as the building and activation of the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio. However, each was overcome. We tout all the previous barriers as strengths today, and still there is not a large influx of regional jail facilities being built in Ohio or across the United States. We contend that the reasoning is very simple and yet very complex: You must have leadership during all phases of getting the regional jail up and running . You must recognize there are phases in the process and each person involved is affected.

Those involved must be developed into a "high performing team." In the past ten years, a great deal of effort and theorizing has gone into effective leadership and committees. In reviewing the many models that are available to us in leadership and management literature, I believe that government officials wishing to consider a cost effective regional jail could use a model to get them down the same path that has allowed success at the Corrections Commission of Northwest Ohio.

One of the current vehicles in assisting in this process is the National Institute of Corrections planning of new institutions (PONI) project. The National Institute of Corrections Jail Division has technical assistance available on planning new institutions. This model has been in use for more than 20 years and has assisted thousands of officials in opening local jails. Their expertise can be utilized in educating officials on the jail planning process. The PONI model includes 1) planning; 2) designing; 3) building; and, 4) activating.

It is important in recognizing that this model is developmental and built upon the relationships of those participating. Leadership can help guide potential regional jail commissions on a road that serves the taxpayers well.

When forming a new commission, opening a new facility or initiating subcommittees, it is critical that the participants understand the role of group leaders and team building. The integrated correctional change model offers the road map for work teams and leaders associated with these teams.

Our own commission’s success can be traced to leadership and team building. A road map was not available, but strong leadership was. In tracing our organizational roots, via a survey, there were a variety of leaders who believed in regionalization and defended it passionately.

In the beginning, the early CCNO members became oriented to the regional jail concept. The commission was privileged that one of the early proponents and authors of regionalization was Paul Paquette, at that time director of the local Criminal Justice planning unit. The planning unit started planning and assessing their needs early on, they brought in the PONI project. NIC jail staff were highly directive and highly supportive.

There was public dissatisfaction and resistance while the facility was being designed and sighted. During that stage there was significant discussion about the location of the facility. Turf skirmishes occurred between Commission members. No one wanted it located in their town! Several different locations were proposed. Over 75 community meetings were held in the five counties. Certainly the displeasure of the communities affected the support of the members within the Commission. Dissatisfaction and resistance to the facility was clear and occurred among the commission members but sparingly. The media reveled in the community and political turmoil. However, the Commission leaders, members and sub committee participants were very committed and focused. This was when the fires of public outcry tempered the steel and actually gave the commission the resolve to see the project through.

As the commission began the construction bidding procedures, the architecture firm and project director took over directing many of the activities of the commission as the majority of the business dealt with the actual building of the jail. The commission members were highly supportive at that stage while the architecture firm provided needed leadership during a very technical phase.

A key event that led to the success of our opening and early operations was the use of a Criminal Justice Planning Team. Most elected officials already had full time jobs of their own or were retired professionals. Their role as a commission member was only part time and that was exactly what they expected. It is important when embarking on such a project that you have people who are knowledgeable in the corrections business who can do the leg work. Current jail staff from the soon to be closed jails must be involved to gain their early commitment to the new facility. Our commission was lucky enough that a Criminal Justice Planning Group was already established in Northwest Ohio. Commission members were able to delegate tasks, reports, research and even leg work for initial staff hiring to the planning group. Additional funds were acquired by the commission to enlarge the planning group to assist on the regional jail project. A full time project director for the regional jail facility was hired to work with the planning group and commission. The sheriffs, judges and commissioners did not have the time that was necessary to oversee the construction of a 600+ bed facility. For those of you contemplating building a facility of any size, I question you trying to do it without outside assistance.

As the facility came closer to activation, the first Executive Director took on a more prominent leadership role. Most of the activities for activation were delegated to him to include a variety of board subcommittees and the criminal justice planning organization support. Relationships were in place. There was a shared vision and trust among those involved. The group became very productive. The NIC jail division now has a special planning program known as How to Open New Institutions (HONI) for activating and opening jails. They can provide a more detailed road map for such committees including policy development, staffing, budgeting, etc. that better prepares you for opening a jail. At this stage, production was high, commitment was high and trust was high. The key in understanding the success of our commission is looking back at the integrated model and realizing that they were going through a developmental experience.

A facilitator should be utilized from the beginning to move people along this continuum. This facilitator must understand the leader role in opening a correctional facility and the process necessary from beginning to end. I recommend that officials seeking regionalization utilize a skilled group facilitator who understands group process and team development. Their leadership skills will be used in guiding the group. As the group gets through the process, the regional jail commission will instinctively assume a stronger leadership role and take ownership for their facility as it goes through each step. I suggest any group contemplating building a regional jail find a facilitator with corrections experience to lead them. There are many consultants available through the National Institute of Corrections, American Correctional Association and the American Jail Association who have the skills. I believe the facilitator should be replaced by the jail administrator and/or commission chairman at activation or just before activation. The commission or governing body leadership must be ever present through activation and continuing through operations phases.

It must also be recognized that as committee members or commission members change via elections, there will be a change in relationships that will effect the groups productivity, trust, etc. New members will need to be directed, then coached to become a productive member of the team or commission. When new elected officials are introduced to the new commission or board they may experience a feeling of dissatisfaction and resistance. They may not understand their role, the jail and operations or even the need for such an entity.

In pondering the dilemma "where are all the regional jails?", I reflect back on the support that I felt since my arrival twelve years ago and recognize that such support, critical cooperation, unified management philosophy, proportionate sharing of costs, cooperation from judicial authorities, a centralized transportation system and a jail location that now can boast that its neighbors have increased property values was the result of courage, relationships and leadership. If the model and process are used correctly, the process can be simplified and replicated.

Paul Paquette, the first Executive Director of CCNO, wrote an article entitled " The Nuts and Bolts of Implementing the Regional Jail Concept ."  This is available in Adobe format by clicking on the above link.

Jim Dennis, former Executive Director of CCNO, wrote a 1998 article entitled "Cooperation Works."  This article is also available by clicking on the link provided.

Ohio's enabling legislation for regional jails is Section 307.93 of the Ohio Revised Code.  Click on this link for a copy of the enabling legislation .

Page last updated March 13, 2019