A great deal of attention has been paid to the management of state prisons in recent years. Much of it has been aimed at corralling the growth in corrections costs, which have been consuming ever-larger portions of the total budget. But it’s equally important to look at jails. These are generally run by counties and cities, and, while populations move through jails at a more fluid pace than prisons, these facilities hold a population of about 740,000 at any one time, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.
A look through a number of local jail audits and other independent reports reveals a management miasma that all too often is hobbling the smooth and safe functioning of jails. One of the big issues confronted by these lockups is lack of staffing. This is often the result of insufficient funding, but it can also be a product of difficulties in hiring enough personnel to fill jobs in jails. After all, it’s not exactly a kid’s dream job—the way firefighter or police officer might be. “People don’t want to work in a jail when they grow up,” says Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, adding that the ups and downs of the economy and employment rates aren’t necessarily the problem. “Meeting the staffing ratios is a challenge at all times,” he says.