Q&A May/June 2007 – Presidential Outlook

Joseph W. Oxley

In addition to serving as president of the American Jail Association, Joseph W. Oxley has served as sheriff in Monmouth County, N.J., for 11 years. Oxley oversees a $56.7 million operating budget and 735 employees. He plans to leave the post at the end of this year to return to the private sector.

Oxley spoke with Correctional News during a phone interview from his office in New Jersey.

Q: Your one-year term as president of the American Jail Association is almost over. How has the experience been?

A: It’s certainly been an interesting term. We have a new executive director, Gwyn Smith-Ingley, and she has done a phenomenal job during the course of my term with what we’ve been able to do to get the conference ready for AJA. We’ve got 45 educational workshops set up for this year.

Q: What do you do as president of AJA?

A: Every year is a little bit different. This year, one of the hot items that we have been working with is the Prison Rape Elimination Act. We have had a couple of hearings on that and it has been one of the topics I’ve been working on. I’ll be the keynote speaker for one of the state conferences coming up.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Prison Rape Elimination Act? Is it going to be helpful for jail administrators?

A: I think it focuses attention on the issue, so in that respect it is helpful. But, in terms of what folks are doing around the country, I don’t know of any correctional professional that doesn’t have awareness about the topic. I think it is going to be helpful in terms of what comes out of it as far as training and mandates.

Q: Basically, it will reinforce ideas that are already out there?

A: Yes, ideas that some of the best and brightest correctional professionals throughout the nation are already focused on. This just raises awareness and hopefully it will generate some funding for additional training.

Q: Has your role as AJA president provided any insight to major trends in the industry or any hot-button issues?

A: I don’t necessarily think being president of AJA has helped, I think it is the fact that I am very active in a professional organization. The networking that we do with corrections and law enforcement is very positive.

I think gang awareness that started in communities is now an undercurrent in many of our correctional facilities. Sharing information, thoughts and trends with professionals is always a help.

Q: Do you think gangs have increased in correctional facilities or is there now just a more concentrated effort to address the problem?

A: I think during the last few years the awareness has been raised and there has been more of a focus on violence in our streets and in the correctional system.

Q: Are there any trends that really trouble you? What is the most trying issue for correctional facilities now?

A: They are not trends that trouble me, but truth-in-sentencing and three-strikes initiatives make it challenging to ensure that facilities do not get overcrowded. In state facilities, we are going to have an aging population and inmates that may created additional health care costs.

Q: What operations aspects are emerging that are improving correctional facilities?

A: There is an increased emphasis on the importance of continuing training to make sure that employees are educated and professional. I think the advancement of technology has also helped with advancing population management.

Q: What are the most important technological advances that you have seen?

A: I think online educational opportunities for inmates are beneficial, along with online records management for medical records and fingerprint technology. Here at Monmouth County , we use a system that compares a set of fingerprints with a database with literally millions of fingerprints in less than a half hour. You know exactly who is in your facility and if there are open warrants, you are getting that information while the person is still in the booking process.

I’m excited about the fingerprint technology and facial-recognition software that is coming out. There are also a lot of improved closed-circuit cameras and advancements with communications.

There are advancements with in-house communications in terms of what corrections employees can do with their radios, but also there is interoperability where agencies can correspond with a correctional facility during an emergency, whether it’s police, fire fighters or first-aid personnel.

Q: All of your operations at the sheriff’s office are accredited. Are you primarily accredited by the American Correctional Association or have you received accreditation from other organizations?

A: The American Correctional Association accredits our correctional facility and our youth detention center. The National Commission on Correctional Health Care reviews our health care component. The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement agencies accredits our communications center and our law enforcement division. They are all looking to do the same thing — to ensure professionalism and efficient operations.

Q: Does accreditation benefit you in other ways?

A: The state department of corrections comes in and gives us annual inspections, and we’ve always done very well. Because we house federal inmates, we get inspections from federal officials. With ACA accreditation, a team comes in and another set of eyes and ears looks at our facility to make sure that we are maintaining a certain level of professionalism.

By having outside people come in to look at the facility, it is a plus because we are getting input on operations and management, and we get the benefit of standards that have been tested nationwide. It can’t do anything but make the facility a little better.

Q: It sounds like you are taking a proactive approach to solving potential problems before state and federal agencies get involved.

A: It just gives you the peace of mind at your facility. You know that it is operating the way it needs to be operated and it is in that elite percentage of facilities that have been accredited by the ACA.

Q: You are leaving your post as sheriff this year after 11 years of public service. What advice can you give other administrators that are responsible for housing inmates?

A: You have to keep your fingers on the daily pulse of the facility. You need to be active and involved on a daily basis with issues that happen within the facility.

Corrections is one of the most challenging jobs in law enforcement. It’s a challenging population with acute medical and psychiatric needs, and at times it is a violent population. It’s a very tricky environment that needs to be monitored on a daily basis.

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