Webinar presenter Diana Knapp answered a number of your questions after her webinar, Responding to the Urban Jail in Crisis. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Diana, you created incredible change here. If you had to point to the first step or the first critical steps, where would you recommend others start first?
Diana Knapp: I would say, first, check yourself. Coming to a facility in crisis is not for those who are burnt out. If you’re ready to retire, this isn’t the role for you. You have to be all in like you were the first couple of years of your career. There’s probably something just weird about me, but I drink the Kool-Aid, I love this. I think I’m the luckiest person in the world to get to do this job. And it wasn’t hard to identify other people here who are, too. , We had what I call get-on-the-bus conversations. There were people who were like, “This isn’t going to work for me,” and we opened up their future for new opportunities. People left voluntarily because they didn’t want to work in an environment that wasn’t going to be about having altercations with people every day… We also have those folks who I know were kind of sitting on the sidelines and they’re like, “Oh, well, it’s cute, she’s got ideas. But you’re the seventh director I’ve had in my career, so it’ll pass, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.” But then there was this third group of folks, and they were like, “Wow, I’ve been waiting for this. I’ve been waiting, I’m a committed professional, and I’ve been here for 15 years. Where do I sign?, What do you need me to do?” And those were the people who got on the bus right away, they didn’t have to be cajoled, and other people have joined and got on the bus since. Then, you have to get those people in the right seat on the bus. So, it’s not just enough that they’re on the bus, but who’s actually driving? It’s making sure it’s safe. So, that is still a work in progress all the time. And people have seen that another big deal for us in those early days was really getting people to recognize that there was room at the table for everyone. We don’t care what you look like here. Just be in line with our dress code, or be within our uniform policy. There’s room for everybody here. Gay, straight, male, female, younger, older, born here, born elsewhere. It doesn’t matter, and we’ve modeled that and that made a big difference. So, look at your resources in your agencies right now. You’ll find somebody who’s just waiting for somebody to take leadership and show passion for the journey. And you’ll find they’ll get on get on board, so that’s what I would say, the first thing is to make sure you’re ready for it.
Audience Question: Does the jail provide wellness support for your own folks? And if it does can you describe your program?
Diana Knapp: The short answer is inadequately so, at this point. I think that the industry, our whole industry, is really just starting to shift, to look at officer wellness, to look at the statistics of our staff related to chronic disease, divorce, addiction, suicidality, and all of those factors. And we’re just as behind here at JCDC as the rest of the industry is. Our County has a wellness program. We’ve done some challenges in the past on weight loss, and things of that nature. We do have a peer support program, here. It’s not utilized well. And we have an employee assistance program that’s confidential and provides free counseling opportunities and other support for staff. But also, I think that there is kind of a culture of concern about the confidentiality of that, and it doesn’t get used to the extent that it could. So we are, I would say, in baby steps on officer wellness and not nearly where we should be.
Audience Question: Once the public perception of an agency goes badly or even sideways, what can we do to restore our reputation?
Diana Knapp: Well, that’s an excellent question because we clearly had that problem here. I can tell you that there was an article in the Kansas City Star just last week that said the management of the jail improved after 2018, so, that was good. But I really think it just starts one person at a time. When a mom calls here, eventually, they’ll transfer the call to me, and I will take the information from her. Then, one of the things that I do is I’m going to go up and see that inmate myself. I’m going to talk to that inmate and find out what the situation is, what the concern is. I’m going to research it, and then I’m going to call that mom back and call her right away. And usually, by the time I call her back, her son hascalled and said, “Hey, the director was just up here,” and I give Mom the information. And oftentimes, the information that mom gets is that her son has beenless than truthful with her. And just being able to reach you is important. We have a community e-mail that comes into the jail. And we’ve got somebody who monitors that. And when we respond, I will give that person my direct line and my desk number, and we make sure that we respond right away. And I think that kind of, good customer service has gone a long way to restoring people’s faith in us, making sure that people get answers, they get answers quickly. And that’s an expectation. It’s another thing that we did. It seems like it should have been obvious to me. We were taking 6 to 8 hours to release somebody who had a court-ordered release. Well, there’s a whole bunch of liability. It was terrible and we’re in downtown Kansas City, the partner, the children, and the grandma is coming down here and they’re sitting and waiting in a car for hours. Now, we fix that, that’s just lousy customer service. We were doing the same thing with patrol deputies bringing in arrestees. They’re sitting in our law enforcement lobby for an extended period of time. Well, that means they’re not on patrol in your community. So, we improved both of those things. A lot of our families are familiar faces to us, and their family member who’s in custody is a familiar face to us. And I think that they now know, there’s a number to call. There’s somebody to talk to. I can walk in the front lobby, and somebody’s going to help me. And so, I think it’s just doing that time and again. And being consistently responsive, I think word spreads.
Audience Question: Diana, you were talking about your staffing and such, what was the turnover like during this time? And how are you able to manage the churn and morale and all of that during that time?
Diana Knapp: Like every other facility across the nation. We are still in a staffing crisis. Our staffing is substantially worse than it was two years ago. So, it hasn’t improved. Yet you’ve seen our workers’ comp numbers go down. It’s because we do things safer. We have fewer people, but we changed how we do what we do so that we do it better, it’s more calm here, it’s a safer environment. But, we haven’t solved our staffing problem. If it wasn’t for the number of first-generation immigrants that we have, especially in our detention ranks, we would be failing.
Audience Question: Diana, can you describe how you address disciplinary issues with your own staff, especially regarding excessive use of force?
Well, we have a policy that is a code of conduct, and it has a grid of recommended sanctions for first, second offense, and third offenses. For example, sleeping on duty is a first-offense termination, every time. And we do it every time. It’s that consistency. Excessive use of force, depending upon the severity, could be a first-time termination. It might be a teach-coach-and-train opportunity if a staff member loses their temper after they’ve been struck or spit on, those are some of the things that we deal with, that aren’t necessarily malicious at their heart. It’s important that you look at the circumstances of every incident, be consistent in how you meet out discipline, and be prepared to make those difficult decisions. There are some people that you’re going to have to let go. There are some things there’s no coming back from, and it’s difficult, especially when you’re worried about litigation. But you just have to be willing to do that, and you have to recognize that unsafe officers create an unsafe environment that puts everybody else at risk. And you just must make tough choices. That’s the only advice I can give you about that.
Audience Question: What kind of schedule do your line staff work? And do you feel like longer shifts are more conducive to having more use of force or no?
Diana Knapp: Apparently not. It’s an excellent question, by the way, thank you. We went from three 8-hour shifts to two 12-hour shifts about two years ago, and there was a lot of resistance to that, initially, a lot of pushback. But now, I think if we tried to go to eight-hour shifts tomorrow, I think there’ll be the same pushback because the 12-hour shifts mean that you get longer days off, you get three days off or four days off a week, depending upon the week, which I think, contributes to greater recovery time. But a 12-hour shift is a brutal shift, that’s a very long shift to work. And in addition to that, we have mandatory overtime for at least six people a day, so, they’re working 16-hour shifts. And we’re in a lot of communication with our union about some schedule ideas that might help alleviate some of that. We have a pay increase proposal before county management right now. And they’re working with us on that to improve the number of applicants we’re getting in the door. But the data support that we’ve had fewer use forces incidents with the 12-hour shifts. But our officers are just tired, everybody’s tired. And I think that a 12-hour shift is a really long shift. If we went back to eight hours tomorrow, there’ll be pushback probably from our union because they do really like the extra days off in a week that has been done.
Audience Question: So, you may have touched on this in your answer, but I just want to kind of maybe circle back to this one aspect. Are there any best practices that you can share regarding how you manage that over time and given your staffing issues, is there any judgment that you use when to say, if this person has been pushed just too far, they need some extra time off? How do you juggle that overtime challenge?
Diana Knapp: Well, first, we ask our staff to let us know if they’re struggling, that’s an important thing. We expect our supervisors to provide breaks and relief and stay constantly floating in their areas, too. Stay dialed in and check on staff and how they’re doing. We try to do what we can. This is especially serious when you’ve got officers working in an isolated post. We have 800 inmates and a lot of our inmates come to us with chronic untreated physical problems, mental health issues, they’re withdrawing from substances, and so we are often sitting on inmates at our local hospital, that’s an isolated post. That’s somebody we need to be checking on regularly. And we have other isolated posts throughout the facility that I think are higher risk for an officer to experience fatigue and the vigilance problems that result. But it just compounds, all of the stressors and high-risk factors the corrections staff across the country have or are exacerbated by the long hours. So, the best thing that we can do for our staff is to get more staff in here, get them properly trained and prepared to help ease the burden.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Responding to the Urban Jail in Crisis.