AJA was incorporated in 1981 through the merger of the National Jail Association and the National Jail Managers’ Association. That same year, AJA held its first Annual Training Conference & Jail Expo in Concord, California with 50 attendees and 6 exhibitors. Today, AJA’s Annual Conference & Jail Expo brings together more than 2,200 jail practitioners from across the country to train, network, and meet on issues facing our Nation’s jails. The Conference features a Jail Expo that offers numerous opportunities for attendees to view and learn from hundreds of vendors who provide products and services needed to run their jails.
Until 1986, the executive duties fell upon the President, the Chairman of the Board, and the Secretary-Treasurer. In 1986, AJA’s first Executive Director, Francis R. “Dick” Ford, was hired to take charge of the association’s executive duties. That same year, AJA established its headquarters in Hagerstown, Maryland, approximately 70 miles northwest of Washington D.C. The membership at that time numbered approximately 700.
In 1987, AJA began publishing its award-winning magazine American Jails, which reaches government personnel at the local, State, and national levels and numerous individuals from the private sector. American Jails has the distinction of being the only magazine geared solely to jail issues with articles covering both the American and foreign jail scenes.
AJA began introducing several in-service training tools in 1988 designed to help agencies provide their own in-house training. These training tools include: the Jail Operations Bulletins (JOBs) which are designed to assist all jail personnel with the day-to-day issues that impact jail operations, the Jail Managers Bulletins (JMBs) which emphasize techniques and strategies to assist supervisors and managers, and a series of in-depth videos exploring the latest developments in corrections, the JOB Videos. AJA’s Write-It-Right Quarterly (WIRQ) was introduced in 1996 to assist jail staff with their writing skills.
In 1989, AJA presented its first Product/Service/Resource Directory to the membership. The directory offers an extensive listing of hundreds of companies that provide products, services, and resources to jails. A year later, AJA began conducting training seminars nationwide. Today, AJA offers a Professional Development Seminar Training Calendar of comprehensive training seminars specifically designed to meet the needs of jail personnel.
The following year, AJA introduced its first Who’s Who in Jail Management jail directory. The directory is a comprehensive listing of more than 3,200 jails in the United States. This same year, AJA established its Code of Ethics for Jail Officers.
Stephen J. Ingley took over the helm at AJA by becoming the association’s second Executive Director in 1992.
The Certified Jail Manager (CJM) Program was launched in 1997. This program focuses specifically on the individual jail manager and is an indication of his or her competency in this specialized field. Jail managers who become CJMs are distinguished as individuals who have reached one of the highest levels of achievements in their field. The first Certified Jail Manager examination was held in October of that year.
In the spring of 2002, AJA broke ground on its own 7,500-square-foot office building in Hagerstown, Maryland. AJA also joined forces with Fort Hays State University in Kansas to offer members affordable online distance education undergraduate degree programs, graduate programs, and certificate options in the field of Justice Studies and Security Management.
Historic American Jail Photo
AJA continued the elevation of jail practitioners with the first examination for the Certified Jail Officer (CJO) Program in May of 2005. AJA’s third Executive Director, Gwyn Smith-Ingley, came aboard in 2006. That same year, the AJA Board adopted a revised strategic plan and rated enhancing its Legislative Program, expanding member services, and developing the National Jail Leadership Command Academy (NJLCA) among its top priorities for the coming years. The first session of the NJLCA was held March 7-12, 2009.
The Certified Correctional Trainer (CCT) Program was launched in 2009 to recognize the achievements of corrections trainers within our industry. AJA partnered with the International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP) on the program. The first examination was held in February 2010.
Robert J. Kasabian was hired by the Board of Directors in 2012 to assume the role of Executive Director. Under his leadership, AJA began delivering its bimonthly magazine American Jails to every jail and local detention center in the country. The association also added a Certified Jail Supervisor (CJS) certification in 2019, and increased its lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill on behalf of association members.
Chris Daniels, a seasoned association professional, became the association's fifth Executive Director in late 2020. Today, the association has 23 officers and members of the Board of Directors, a staff of 12, and a membership of about 3,000.
United States Air Force Award to American Jail Association