Current Legal Issues in Corrections 

I have attached a link to my Legal Issues PowerPoint below as a resource of information for you all. It also includes information pertaining to Use of Force. I also wanted to share some current issues we are currently facing in the Corrections industry. It’s obvious that litigation is one of our biggest enemies. We are always trying to stay out of the litigation fire. Unfortunately we are in the business where bad things happen, and when they do, the microscope comes out and the fingers start pointing. It’s just the nature of the beast. Changes typically trickle down from the federal level, to the state level, then on to policy and procedure. Eventually it becomes common practice, “just the way things are”. Sometimes, by the time it becomes common practice, something else has already changed. But the big take away is that what might be the cultural norm, or common practice, might not always be best practice. The profession is constantly evolving, and so are legal issues. It is always good to stay informed of what is going on.

After attending a recent Jail Risk Management training, I was again reinforced that most of the issues we deal with can be avoided by simply “being a reasonable human being” and knowing that practical wisdom has more answers at times than policy and procedure. They are merely guardrails that keep up from going off of the road. There is a lot of grey area, along with so many variables we deal with each day, and we have to be able to navigate through the grey area making decisions that are legal, professional and safe. It’s easy to read about current legal issues and review what data shows. However, it is another thing to actually understand the information you read and do something with it from the front line. To put this into context, here is an example:


  • You can be sued under State Law for negligence. It’s your agencies, and your own individual duty to protect.
  • What does an agency need to know and do to prevent suicides and prevent suicide liability?  
  1. Thorough screenings and more questions
  2. Closer and more frequent checks
  3. More training
  •  What does this mean to you, and what can you do?
  • Use common sense
  • Have compassion and care about people
  • Know your purpose and find meaning in what you do
  • It’s not just about the check the box questions that you are required to ask. Its more about the questions you should be asking yourself:
  1.  Who’s coming into jail?
  2. Why are they coming in?
  3. What are their charges?
  4. What’s their demeanor and level of energy?
  5. What’s their history and have they been to jail before?
  6. Do they appear depressed, down or “hopeless”?
  7. Whats abnormal and doesn’t seem right?
  • Slow down and respond to what’s presented
  • Notify your supervisor
  • Document -Document –Document

It’s easy to say “thou shalt” and create tasks to prevent litigation, but it is on us frontline Officers and Supervisors to make sure those things get done. Personally I believe it is less about the “rules” and more about “principles”. It’s important to remember that rules can control, but only principles can guide. And being a reasonable human being, which only we can control, can be our first line of defense against these litigation issues from arising.


Opiate Use and Detoxification

  • 80% of jail population
  • When in doubt notify medical
  • If they are thin, they are at a higher risk of death
  • If they had diarrhea or they are vomiting, they are at risk of dying from dehydration
  • Notify your supervisor
  • Document -Document -Document

Strip searches

  • Reasonable suspicion – RCW 10.79.030
  • Witnessing the exchanging of clothing is considered a strip search (seeing the person naked)
  • Notify your supervisor
  • Document –Document –Document


  • Fair treatment but equal accommodations
  • Don’t discriminate “because” of a disability
  • Always be reasonable, trying to find reasonable accommodations without breeching security.
  • Document –Document -Document


  • The most common 1st Amendment issues raised in corrections
  • Turner v Safely – balancing an inmates right with the institutions need to restrict that right.
  1. Look for ways to reasonably accommodate religious rights
  2. Don’t just deny without first looking for reasonable alternatives
  • Be creative, Be innovative
  1. “I can’t allow you to wear your rosary while in custody, however, I can get you a Bible. I can also get you in touch with a Chaplain if you would like.”
  • Notify your supervisor
  • Document –Document –Document

 Mentally Ill

  • Approximately 64% of our jail population have some sort of mentally illness, with a large percentage of that population under chemical dependency and substance abuse.
  • Be Patient, be flexible and point to the right resources
  • Notify your supervisor
  • Notify Mental Health
  • Document –Document –Document


  • Do not cross gender search
  • Do not conduct duel split searches
  • Screen and identify risks
  • Use common sense to pick up warning flags
  • Take complaints serious
  • Always notify your supervisor
  • Document –Document –Document

Inmate Releases

  • Don’t release the wrong inmates (triple check)
  • For Inmates that are getting released, ask questions and identify if there should be some release planning.
  1. Are they able to care for themselves?
  2. Are they mentally ill?
  3. Do they have anywhere to go?
  4. If they are taking medication, will they be able to access that medication upon release?
  5. Do they need to be released to a medical facility?
  • Document –Document –Document


  • Put life and people before task and operation
  • Continue to care and be genuine
  • Exercise practical wisdom and common sense. If something doesn’t seem right, it probable isn’t.
  • Be a problem solver, trying to solve the problem not the person
  • When making decisions ask yourself “is this safe, legal, and professional”
  • Never hesitate to notify your supervisor
  • Document –Document –Document – Always Document
  • Stay informed

CONTINUE TO BE A “REASONABLE” HUMAN BEING. If you need to, re-ask yourself “why” you do what you do each day.


Legal Issues for Corrections  

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