Inside the Jail: How the Sheriff’s Office Manages Inmate Housing

Photo of minimum security dayroom.

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series examining the Adult Detention Center and the Sheriff’s Office staff that manages the jail. Part two of this series is What Happens When Inmates Are Booked and part three is Rehabilitation Program Options for Inmates.)

The first thing you may notice when you walk into the county’s jail is that it isn’t quite what you expect. Fans of reality TV shows may be disappointed in the quiet, orderly environment.

On any given day, there are approximately 1,100 inmates that are staying in the jail, known as the Adult Detention Center, located next to the Courthouse in the City of Fairfax. It houses both male and female inmates, with a ratio of 80 percent men and 20 percent women.

While in custody at the detention center, inmates are either awaiting trial or sentencing or they have been convicted and are serving a sentence or awaiting transfer to a state prison. Generally, the facility takes offenders sentenced to 12 months or less.


Protecting the Inmates and the Community

Picture of deputies checking on inmates.Photo of deputy at his work station.


The responsibility to ensure safe and secure housing for the inmate population falls to the Sheriff’s Office, which also provides security for all courts and judges within the county (and the City of Fairfax and the Towns of Herndon and Vienna) and serves and executes civil documents generated by the courts.

There are 268 sworn deputies, as well as civilian staff members, in the Sheriff’s Office assigned to the detention center, who operate in four rotating squads on 12 ½ hour shifts.

During their shift, the deputies have many responsibilities, including:

  • At least six scheduled cell lock-in and lock-out periods.
  • Inspecting  inmates to ensure they are ready for their day’s activities.
  • Briefing  inmates on their daily schedule for education, drug treatment services, health services, recreation, attorney meetings, court times, religious services and life skills training.
  • Conducting routine inspections of each inmate and document their observations.

The Sheriff’s Office also has alternative incarceration programs for eligible offenders who are housed in a separate facility next to the detention center. These programs include work release, electronic incarceration, community labor force, weekend confinement, community service and fines option programs.


Four Jail Housing Options

Our county’s detention center is unique in the nation in that it provides four different types of housing: direct supervision, linear supervision, podular remote supervision and single cell supervision.

  • In direct supervision, also known as minimum security, deputies work inside the cell block with up to 48 inmates, without any separation from them. This concept provides for active and continuous supervision of the inmates to better manage those who have less serious offenses.
Minimum Security dayroom

Minimum security dayroom

  • Linear supervision, also known as medium security, consists of deputies monitoring their floor by patrolling down a corridor. Each floor has numerous cell blocks which can house up to five inmates each and include a dayroom. This type of supervision replicates a prison setting where inmates are separated from deputies.
Photo of medium security dayroom.

Medium security dayroom

  • In podular supervision, also known as maximum security, a deputy in a secure control booth observes the activities of five pods of up to 20 inmates each. This approach provides intense supervision of inmates, inmate activities and security.
Photo of Maximum Security pod

Outside the control booth in a maximum security pod

  • Single cell supervision is the most restrictive and intensive type of inmate supervision. It provides maximum safety and security for both inmates and staff by housing the inmates individually in cells. Deputies monitor inmates by patrolling corridors, which are arranged in a similar fashion to linear supervision.
Photo of single cell room

Single cell room


Mental Health Awareness

The detention center also provides separate housing options for individuals with mental illness, which affects up to 40 percent of the inmates. Led by Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, a longtime mental health advocate, the jail implemented several changes over the past few years to address this growing issue:

  • Changing the inmate release time from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. when housing and transportation options are more readily available.
  • Participating in the Diversion First initiative that aims to provide treatment options instead of going to jail.
  • Suspending the use of tasers in the jail.
  • Providing deputies with Crisis Intervention Team training and all staff with Mental Health First Aid training.

The Sheriff’s Office also partners with the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board to serve inmates who have a mental illness. Mental health housing primarily operates using two types of supervision, single cell and dormitory. The male mental health block has 48 individual cells located within a direct supervision block and a dormitory that holds 13 inmates. The female mental health housing block has 24 individual cells and a dormitory. Each mental health cell has a window with a view to the outside and natural sunlight, less traffic and noise than a regular cell, and the ability to control light and dark in each room.

Photo of inside the mental health dorm

Staff working with an inmate inside the mental health dorm

Deputies assigned to these areas typically work in pairs, since the management of these inmates is more intense and involves more direct contact for basic functions. These deputies have received special training on the handling of inmates with mental illness before being assigned there, and jail-based behavioral health staff are stationed nearby.

Part two of this series will focus on the booking process of inmates, while part three will explore rehabilitation program options.

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