Demystifying 7 Myths About Jail Classification Systems

When an inmate is booked into a county jail, they are required by statute to be placed in appropriate housing to ensure the safety of themselves and others. To determine placement, the suspect must be objectively classified based on numerous criteria, not just on the crime they allegedly committed. 

In the end, a single jail may house up to as many as two dozen classifications. 

Why so many? Past behaviors, gender, mental health, illnesses, security risks, and a host of other factors are weighed objectively to determine the classification. With so many nuances in the jail classification system, there are also many preconceived notions.

Here, we’ll demystify several myths and help you understand why jail facilities need to be optimized for efficiency, safety, and proper inmate management.

RELATED RESOURCE: Explore Jail Planning Services

MYTH #1: Inmates only need to be classified once during the booking process. 

TRUTH: An inmate’s behavior or circumstances may change during their stay and necessitate reclassification.

Those who are arrested are classified based on available information. Some may be placed into pre-classification housing until more information is obtained. Even after being placed, an investigation may reveal additional details that warrant reclassification. Other events like attempted self-harm or combative behavior might require a new housing arrangement. Typically, an inmate’s classification is reviewed after 30 days, and it isn’t unusual for them to be reclassified at that time. The process of assessing inmate needs over time is complex and nuanced.

MYTH #2: Classification status is the same from one jail to the next.

TRUTH: Each jail’s process for classification may differ based on its population and available housing.

Each jail is designed differently and may have limitations based on several factors including layout, staffing, the existing population, and more. Jail administrators need to work with the resources they have available, which can be difficult due to the physical plant.  While some classifications may be initially based on the crime, other highly nuanced factors may prompt an administrator to classify an inmate differently than a neighboring county.

MYTH #3: Jail staff can override inmate classifications.

TRUTH: While jail staff have some flexibility to meet facility needs, there may be legal ramifications and civil litigation if they mix classifications and an inmate or staff member is harmed. Classification is required by State Statute. 

The classification process is taken very seriously, and jail staff who classify inmates must be trained and authorized to do so. Many use specialized software in combination with their training, interviews, and assessment skills to place inmates in proper housing. Those who classify inmates must also demonstrate care and compassion for those being booked into jail to ensure their safety. They will also consider their rehabilitation programming needs.

MYTH #4: Jail classification systems are conforming to social or political movements.

TRUTH: Inmate classifications are not based on subjective opinions about modern societal issues. They are based on objective governmental statutes and requirements. 

The Sheriff is responsible for the safety and security of inmates, staff, and the community. A sheriff’s department and county board members may hear from citizens who believe certain offenders are taking advantage of the system. An example might be someone who struggles with their gender identity. Jail administrators need to ensure everyone’s safety and determine how to classify transgender inmates regardless of whether or not they, or others, approve of these types of societal shifts.

MYTH #5: A jail facility can simply transfer inmates to another county.

TRUTH: Jail administrators can choose to try and contract with another county and transport inmates to another facility. However, the process is neither simple nor cheap.

The costs to transport inmates from one county jail to another are astronomical. Security staffing, vehicle costs, fuel, and fees for housing outside the district will mount quickly. The process also introduces unnecessary safety risks and may make it difficult for the justice system to ensure due process. Inmates will need to be driven back and forth for court dates or mandatory appearances. Housing inmates outside a jurisdiction is not a long-term solution, especially if neighboring counties face similar challenges and can’t accept more inmates. Often times there may not be an available bed in another county due to their own housing needs. 

MYTH #6: Suspects can be kept in dorm settings until a bed is available.

TRUTH: Large receiving dorms and holding cells are becoming obsolete.

The complexities of today's inmate population coupled with objective classification prevent designing and using large dorm areas. Large dorms may have beds that are not able to be used if all of the inmates assigned do not classify the same. Receiving areas have also changed, leaning toward more single cells needed to properly house pending classification to general housing.  In general, the booking and receiving area of a modern jail requires a larger footprint than it has in the past. 

MYTH #7: It’s impossible to design a jail to accommodate all inmate classifications.

TRUTH: Jails can be designed with flexible housing units to accommodate evolving classifications. 

Modern jail architecture often leverages podular designs that offer more flexibility than a linear jail layout with long hallways and permanent cell blocks. Podular units can be monitored with fewer staff without compromising security. Likewise, podular cells can often be reassigned to accommodate various classifications. We have learned that designing smaller units allows the jail more options for classification.

But here’s another hard truth: the jail classifications of today will continue to evolve as society continues to change. Everyone wants a solution that will solve jail capacity issues for the next 50 years, but no one can predict what the housing needs will be then. This alone stresses the importance of flexible designs that can adapt over time and accommodate the changing landscape of the justice system. 

If you’re embarking on a jail renovation or new facility project, it’s important to work with a construction team that understands the complexities of modern jail facilities, including staffing challenges, capacity constraints, classifications, county board and taxpayer buy-in, and much more. At Samuels Group, we know the ins and outs and work closely with sheriff’s departments and the Department of Corrections to develop a solution for your community and population’s needs. 

Contact the jail construction experts at Samuels Group. Also, explore our jail planning services. Our team works closely with stakeholders in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota to assess existing facility constraints and classification challenges and provide practical recommendations.

Guide to Jail Construction Planning

You May Also Like

These stories on Jails

No Comments Yet

Let us know what you think