Resource Center Focuses on Jail Leadership

With many senior and mid-level administrators reaching retirement age, American jails are facing a crisis. To address the challenge, Sam Houston State University, along with several national corrections partners, developed a resource center for jail leadership and succession planning.

“Without adequate preparation, jail directors, wardens, and sheriffs will struggle with the loss of experienced leaders," said Susan W. McCampbell, President of the Center for Innovative Public Policies (CIPP) in Florida, and lead developer of this project. "They need to find new ways to retain and groom experienced leaders and recruit new employees with high qualifications to operate the correctional facilities of the future."

The Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT) at SHSU, the Center for Innovative Public Policies, and the American Jail Association (AJA) developed a one-stop shop for jail leadership information, including core competencies and skills for administrators, resources to build a leadership mentorship program, and a library with more than 400 documents to address specific needs at individual institutions. The Center is located at, a website developed by Dr. Steve Cuvelier at SHSU.

"The goal of the project is to produce user-friendly products which will not only increase knowledge, but give agencies data and tools so they can develop their individual plans to transition mid-managers to leadership," said Doug Dretke, Executive Director of CMIT. "We want to enable jails to successfully develop and implement their own leadership development and succession planning initiatives by providing the resources necessary through this site."

The site identifies 22 core competencies for effective jail administrators, which were developed by an advisory panel of 20 jail professionals and based on evidence-based practices. The list identifies the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to operate a jail facility and serves as a foundation for a mentoring program. Among some of the competencies are:

  • Anticipate, analyze, and resolve organization challenges and conflicts
  • Comprehend, obtain, and manage fiscal resources
  • Engage in strategic planning
  • Establish organizational authority, roles, and responsibility
  • Manage labor relations
  • Oversee inmate and facility management
  • Reduce jail-related liability risks

The core competencies were based on a literature review of the many elements of leadership in the public and private sectors. The Mentoring Program, developed as part of this project, provides a toolkit for prospective leaders, includes a mentor and mentee handbook, and an administrative manual that identifies key training areas from the National Jail Leadership Command Academy (NJLCA). The NJLCA is held at SHSU in collaboration with the AJA and CIPP. Graduates of the program will work with new managers to enhance and sharpen their leadership skills.

Finally, the resource center will offer a library to access published materials on a wide range of subject matters. A "leadership planner" will allow a jail administrator to plug in their employee demographic data and be directed to various leadership development strategies based on this data.

The library also includes program descriptions and links for various training programs that are available.

"Maintaining depth of experience depends upon retaining staff," said Bobbi Luna, past president of the American Jail Association and a Captain at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon. "The new generation is entering the workforce with new expectations and motivational needs. Leaders need to become aware of these issues so as to motivate and challenge young staffers, creating professional engagement and commitment. This site is dedicated to continued growth in professionalization and effectiveness of jail leadership both now and in the future."

The development of this site was supported through a grant from the federal Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

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