Three Dos and Three Don’ts of Selecting Jail Management Solutions

By Michael Campbell

Jail Management Systems (JMS) are the heartbeat of a correctional facility’s operations. In this era of rapid consolidation in the software industry, constantly changing technologies and operational challenges, the task of selecting the “right” Jail Management solution can be quite daunting. Based on our experience in this market, we offer the following tips to help you succeed.


Define your own success by developing specific and measurable objectives:

Consider what is driving the need to acquire a JMS and what measurements would reflect success (e.g., reduction of violent incidents due to better management of “keep-aparts” or fewer errors / lower costs resulting from a single point of data entry). By doing so, you not only provide prospective vendors valuable insight, you also proactively set the bar for success for your own organization.

Elicit specific requirements from the people who will use the software, not just from management and IT:

These requirements are ideally in the format of “The ability to…”, which compels the use of a verb in the requirement. A list of nouns as requirements will only breed confusion. Having requirements from these multiple perspectives are useful in assessing specific vendor responses to them.

Consider your classification system:

Some facilities use a very simple structure for inmate classification; others, particularly large facilities may employ a lot of classifications that are very granular. Either way, these classifications typically drive a lot of functionality of a JMS. Including a detailed description of yours in a Request for Proposal, or other elicitation can avoid an awkward and potentially expensive situation.

Have vendors quote you a total cost of ownership of their solution:

Given that some vendors opt for a “back loaded” cost (i.e., the initial software and project costs are low, but the annual licensing and maintenance fees more than make up for it), have vendors specify all costs, for a minimum duration of 5 years. You should also ask for their estimate of your costs (e.g., people, other software or hardware) for both the implementation project and ongoing operation.


Don’t select your solution on the basis of product demonstrations:

Demos, especially those scripted by the vendor, are almost zero risk for the vendor and will not reflect real-world usage. Demos, structured and scripted by customers, are far more revealing and recommended when they are used along with other selection criteria.

Don’t be overly prescriptive in your RFP or bid document:

One of our Guiding Principles is “What before How”, meaning that you need a solution that provides specific capabilities (the What), but you don’t want to prescribe the design (the How) in your RFP. The solution that best provides your desired capabilities may never be offered if the vendor believes you are locked into a design that is different from theirs. Once you determine the set of vendors that can fulfill a high percentage of your functional requirements, you can then better invest effort into choosing the one with the optimal design for you.

Don’t restrict yourselves to talking only to customers who are vendor-supplied references:

Every RFP I’ve seen asks for a minimum of three customer references, which is fine as far as it goes. We encourage you to require a complete list of customers from the vendor as well, so that you can contact the ones that they have not prepared to speak for them. The resulting information is often useful, not only in the selection process, but also can provide valuable insight for contract negotiation.

These tips, as part of a process that provides a competitive impartial comparison of solutions, can help you make your selection with confidence and a solid basis for inspiring that confidence in your stakeholders, both within and outside the walls of your facility. It can be done!

Michael Campbell is a partner and co-founder of Objective Results Inc., which specializes in selecting software solutions with a focus on Public Safety.