Risk Assessment for Jails and Lock-Ups: Addressing Critical Issues

Ashley Bonner
Senior Risk Control Consultant, Trident Public Risk Solutions, Member Paragon Insurance Holdings
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The public focus has been heightened on law enforcement operations resulting in additional policies and procedures, as well as increased emphasis during training and implementation. For example, De-Escalation Techniques and Duty to Intervene policies are critical not only for street operations but also for jails and lock-ups. We must remember not only to de-escalate detainees in difficult and tense situations but ourselves as well.

Additionally, four key issues lead to the majority of losses in jails:

  1. Medical Care: An overwhelming percentage of losses (43%), both number and monetary, results from failure to provide medical care, as shown from aggregated losses over 7 years. This is the largest area of exposure that a public entity can have. Individuals in custody are under the care of those managing the detention facility 24/7, including their healthcare. If staff neglect to take care of detainees’ medical needs, their issues could get worse, and they could become seriously ill or die. Liability increases if these issues were noted during the initial medical evaluation but were neglected to be addressed, if the detainee asked for help and never received it, or did not receive help within a reasonable time frame. Focused management of medical services and in-house response procedures are critical to reducing unnecessary suffering, fatalities, claims, and lawsuits. It should be ensured that appropriate hold harmless and indemnification language is incorporated into all medical contracts. Always have contracts reviewed by qualified local counsel. Further, it should be ensured that proper resources and supplies are available so detainees can maintain acceptable levels of hygiene.
  1. Poor Conditions: Regarding jail conditions, sometimes a facility is older or has issues beyond what the entity can solve expediently, but good jail management and treatment of detainees can make a positive difference. Facility reviews (formal and daily) with documentation and plans for improvement with documented updates are important, but even more key is working with the detainees by establishing a good rapport and by working to make the best of a less than ideal situation. An example of this would be providing daily buckets of ice and fresh washcloths to detainees when the air conditioning is broken or non-existent.
  1. Suicides: Suicide prevention begins at the time that the detainee is taken into custody and is brought to the jail/lock-up. Good communication should exist between the booking/transporting officer and jail/lock-up intake personnel. Proper assessments and monitoring practices should be in place, following established Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). If detainees are on suicide watch, then they should be visually observed in their cell about every 15 minutes in addition to any video surveillance. The corrections officer should also periodically alter the routine, for example, by occasionally returning in a few minutes after checking on the detainee in order to maintain uncertainty of observation times with detainees. Any visit to the cell should be documented. Remember that key events can trigger suicidal attempts, such as the shock of being arrested, court dates/sentencing, upcoming facility transfer, and receiving visitors or bad news.
  1. Sexual and Physical Assaults: Although physical and sexual assaults account for a fewer number of losses, they incur considerably higher monetary expenses, following that of medical care claims. Sexual and physical assaults against detainees have been and are currently being committed both by staff and by detainees. These incidents can be reduced by implementing procedures for careful observation of detainees, including using large video display screens with good camera systems. Furthermore, staff should establish good SOPs incorporating the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), as well as annual training with documentation and continuous awareness for prevention.
  2. Jail and lock-up operations present unique challenges, but they must be well-operated for employees, detainees, and communities. To those who serve the public, thank you for all that you do!

*The views and opinions expressed in the Public Risk Management Association (PRIMA) blogs are those of each respective author. The views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRIMA.*

By: Ashley Bonner
Senior Risk Control Consultant, Trident Public Risk Solutions, Member Paragon Insurance Holdings
Summary of Qualifications

Ashley has a BA from the University of Mississippi, with additional studies at L’Université de Tours in France, Xavier University, Delgado College for Occupational Safety & Health, and Tulane University’s master’s program for industrial safety & public health. She is also Six Sigma and WSO-CST certified.


Ashley is responsible for risk management/evaluation services for a national territory of public entity insureds, including cities, schools, counties, law enforcement/jail operations, water treatment plants, waste haulers and utilities. She oversees development of the company risk management program, services and products, including as a profit center. She is also in charge of staff management, with direct experience in recruiting and hiring personnel, terminating employment and behavior coaching. Ashley is the facilitator for broker/agent relationships and other vendor relationships as well as an advisory source for training underwriters and staff. She is also responsible for development of client risk management guidelines and resources.

Business Experience

Ashley has over 30 years of safety and risk management experience with over 25 years being devoted to working exclusively with governmental operations.

ERM Experience

Ashley is a consultant and resource for public entities for education, planning and implementing ERM. She is a regular speaker on ERM for state chapter PRIMA organizations and author of articles for various organizations.

Professional Affiliations

  • World Safety Organization
  • Society for Human Resource Management
  • ASSP

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