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Beyond Bricks & Mortar: Prioritizing Safety & Security over ‘Lowest Bid’ in Correctional Facilities  

In the correctional facility landscape, physical safety for staff and residents is becoming more difficult with high vacancy rates and aging infrastructure. News headlines highlight the numerous events where violence has occurred inside detention facilities. Many times, the staffing and security conditions within facilities result in conditions where acts of violence occur, involving both staff and the incarcerated.  

The failure of locks on the cell door is often a culprit.  

Besides the risks of theft, severe injury, or even death, these lapses in security create an environment that may violate state and federal law, triggering further oversight and inspections on how the facility is being run.  A recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice, investigating systemic issues in a state-run facility, cited “poor door security and lack of supervision” as a cause of inmate-on-inmate violence.  

However, when improvements are made to the facility to attempt to solve the problems with vulnerable locking systems, either by building a new facility or through renovations of the cell doors and frames, the approach that the purchasing and procurement teams use to manage the project can result in inferior solutions that are just as prone to failure and defeat as the previous locking system.  

It’s time for the industry to reconsider the procurement processes that continue to deliver sub-par security solutions, including locking systems for the cell doors and the facility at large. 

Locking systems and other innovations, far from being comparable to generic construction elements like plumbing or cinder block walls, are vital to the safety and operational efficiency of correctional environments.  

Some forward-thinking jurisdictions have elevated the importance of locking system and security innovations beyond their perceived role as just another line item in construction bids to recognizing them as essential tools for maintaining security and safety within the facility. But, this approach is not the traditional approach for the industry. 

More commonly in the correctional facility landscape, the traditional procurement practices for essential security components, particularly locking systems, are not designed to deliver the safest and most secure solution. The operational and safety values held by facility staff and jail administrators are often overlooked when a new jail or renovation project follows the typical construction bid process. The current method, heavily reliant on bids favoring the lowest bidder, fails to prioritize the outcomes desired by those responsible for the management and security of these facilities. 

A qualification-based selection process, in contrast to the low-bid procurement method, focuses on the qualifications, experience, and performance history of the bidders, considering their ability to deliver high-quality and innovative solutions.  

In an industry study performed by government consulting firm, Quadrant Four, it was noted that “innovative procurement practices yield long-term benefits for governments and the public.”  The authors went on to state that those benefits “include improved service delivery, enhanced value for money, increased competition, better supplier relations, and the stimulation of local economies through the engagement of SMEs [small-to-medium enterprises] and startups.” 

Before building a new facility or starting a project to renovate the security and locking systems in a jail or prison, it’s essential to prioritize the desired outcomes and align procurement practices with the values of safety, reliability, and forward-thinking, ensuring that facilities are equipped with the best possible solutions. 

For all projects that involve locking systems in the correctional industry, there needs to be a paradigm shift in procurement practices. To ensure that the best solution is discovered, Willo recommends a qualification-based sourcing process for locking system equipment. A procurement entity or purchasing department can follow several strategic steps to ensure a successful transition from price-focused methods. Here are some things to consider when making this transition: 

1. Define Project Requirements and Goals: Clearly outline what needs the equipment must meet, including technical specifications, performance criteria, and any industry or safety standards. Consider the long-term objectives, such as reliability, efficiency, and innovation, that the equipment should support. 

2. Develop a Qualification Criteria Framework: Establish the criteria for evaluating suppliers’ qualifications. This could include their experience, financial stability, technical capabilities, quality assurance processes, innovation track record, after-sales service and support, and compliance with regulatory standards. 

3. Market Research and Supplier Outreach: Conduct thorough market research to identify potential suppliers who can meet your criteria. Supplier engagement through requests for information (RFIs) can provide insights into the capabilities and innovations available in the market. 

4. Implementation of a Pilot Program: Consider starting with a pilot program to test the feasibility and effectiveness of the qualification-based sourcing process. A pilot can help refine the process, criteria, and evaluation methods before a full-scale implementation. 

Transitioning to a qualification-based sourcing process requires a cultural shift within the procurement teams at many jails and prisons. However, this move will begin the process of emphasizing value, quality, and innovation over the lowest initial cost.  

Willo Products wants to hear from you. Should locking systems for your cell doors be left up to the “lowest bidder” on a project? Tell us what you think about that and if you’ve ever had a “new” lock installed and had it fail or immediately defeated by an inmate by filling out the form below.

Interested in how Willo can help your facility? Click here to consult with a Jail Renovation Expert to upgrade and enhance your facility’s security.