Our community is changing. So should our jail system.

Operating the only jail in a county of just over 600,000 residents is challenging. With only 572 beds available and over 18,000 annual bookings, keeping the “right” offenders in jail requires a thoughtful systems approach with quality care and services. The capacity of the jail has not increased since 2000 when the population was just shy of 450,000 residents. Jail staff collaborate with criminal justice partners to ensure limited bed space is used in the most efficient, just and fair manner. The jail is also responsible for providing security to all of the Circuit Court Judges and courtrooms.

Our jail staff works faithfully around the clock to ensure Washington County’s only jail is safe and secure for the public, staff and inmates. The area’s first jail was built in 1853. Four jails and 165 years later, our jail staff prides itself in dedication and compassion. In addition to processing over 50 new bookings and releases daily, the jail houses individuals awaiting trial or serving a sentence less than 365 days. A common response during jail tours is how different the jail seems compared to what you may see on TV or movies. The WCSO Jail is a comprehensive system designed for safety, where individuals are well cared for and receive extensive medical care, mental health services, education, work experience and many other life improvement and pro-social programs.

Each inmate who is lodged into the jail is assessed and assigned a classification level. This level signifies to staff any safety or security risks with an individual inmate. Inmates are grouped based on classification level and housed in jail pods with peers who have similar needs. Most pods house up to 60 inmates and function as its own community where inmates reside together, eat meals together and proceed through daily routines such as educational programs, recreational time or cleaning activities.

In 2005, deputies began to work with classifications staff mental health, programs and medical to evaluate inmates who required the most care. Due to physical or mental restrictions, this innovative group ultimately decided it would be safer to house particularly vulnerable inmates together in one housing area. The cadre of staff assigned to work with this special needs pod held ongoing meetings and trainings to assess inmate needs, explore solutions, watch for patterns or trends and monitor the impact of the new housing situation.

The results were very promising. Within 6 months of inception, the group found medication compliance (regular willingness to take prescribed medications) had increased as well as instances of inmate on inmate assault decreased. This approach was one of the first of its kind for a jail and provided important stability to vulnerable inmates.

Throughout the years this pod has evolved to integrate creative strategies to help inmates stay successful during their time in jail. Yoga, meditation and other forms of art therapy have been integrated into inmate activities. Specially trained staff continue to work with the special population housed in this pod and are committed to providing a safe, secure and supportive environment.

“Our Special Needs Pod (SNP) provides a one-of-a-kind environment for inmates who struggle with mental health concerns or are otherwise vulnerable. The teamwork between mental health staff and deputies provides structure and safety for the inmates,” says Sergeant Beth Denny, “The pod is rewarding on a multitude of levels. For me, the reward is seeing the everyday successes of individual inmates.”

Join Sergeant Denny and our team in the Washington County Jail as they evolve alongside our growing community — Become a jail deputy TODAY.