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Facility Design Changes with the Times
By Michelle Gaseau, Managing Editor
Published: 09/09/2002

One size does not fit all. Corrections officials are remembering this simple adage as they try to plan new facilities for an ever-changing prison population. The latest trends in corrections design and construction reflect an increase in special needs offenders and a consistent desire for additional security.

Facilities for women and juveniles, for example, typically need additional space for programming, medical and mental health services and are taking a softer approach to security than men's institutions.

'We [are seeing more facilities for] people outside the general range of the population,' said Barbara Nadel, FAIA, Principal of Barbara Nadel Architects of New York City. 'Clients [want to] create a sense of scale and a homelike environment and a pleasant environment that will enhance rehabilitation rather than punishment.'

Recently Nadel, who is the 2002 Chair for the AIA Committee on Architecture for Justice, was a consultant for the design and construction of an addition at a women's facility in Minnesota.

She said that officials and architects looked to juvenile facilities for ideas for the addition. 

According to architect Steve Loomis, Senior Associate of HSMM, Inc. of Virginia Beach, Virginia, trends in juvenile facility design include centralized intake, space for specialized treatment services with both a therapeutic environment and a normalized environment and the promotion of a philosophy of rehabilitation. 

'We're seeing more in special needs functions and alternatives to incarceration,' Loomis said.

That was the flavor that Nadel and Minnesota officials were looking for. 'The trends that we looked at were coming from juvenile facilities including the use of color, daylight, good observation, and having a residential quality to have a better impact on behavior,' she said.

Women Offenders Require Different Spaces

With specialized facilities, architects and others are responding to the notion that some offenders do time differently. With women offenders, this can be seen in the need for more privacy, shared spaces and more storage.

'A lot of agencies will look at wet and dry cells [for women] because the need for privacy is different from men,' said Nadel. 'Cookie cutter facilities for men don't work for women.'

Nadel said some agencies are beginning to create spaces for women offenders who are participating in parenting programs to visit with their children.

'It depends on the agency. [Some] enable women to have their children come and visit during visiting hours and other times. I think for some circumstances, they allow overnight visits and have trundle beds that pull out and areas designed with suites,' she said.

For the Minnesota facility that Nadel consulted for, officials and the architects had to try to marry their desires for the female facility with requirements from the legislature.

Nadel said that the facility's new addition had to be dry and double-celled, according to the stipulations of the legislature. 

'We had to do gang bathrooms and two people to a room. That created a whole new set of design challenges and some of the activity spaces were different,' said Nadel.

Nadel said to 'make up' for the double celling and shared bathrooms, designers tried to work in other amenities for the female offenders such as kitchenettes, where they could prepare food, and separate quiet spaces.

'That provided incentives for good behavior so they could move up to a different unit with more privacy and more storage,' Nadel said.

Similar issues are also being faced by other agencies. 

According to Scott Higgins, Chief of Design and Construction for the federal Bureau of Prisons, the BOP is in the design process for a new women's facility. Currently, discussions about design have centered on how women do time differently.

'Most states are doing what we do in our facilities -- [space for] vocational training, education spaces, arts and crafts/recreation [areas],' said Higgins. 'A couple of areas that would be different [from the typical facility] are an increased [space] in the medical area -- we may have some pregnant inmates who would need prenatal care -- and there is a growing trend to have space [for] a more pleasant experience to have their children visit.'

Another point of discussion is the kind of security measures that are needed to actually make these prisons secure for women. Research indicates that female offenders require less restrictive security measures than men at the same security level.

'There is an ongoing discussion [of] how secure does a facility have to be [to be secure],' Higgins said.

While BOP officials debate this point for female offenders, many corrections agencies have gone full-tilt toward security technologies for their new facilities for the general population.

Adding Security

At the federal level, Higgins reports that BOP facilities have hardened and he sees no changes in that regard for male facilities.

'They are more concerned about the offenders and what they are capable of doing,' Higgins said. 

The security being incorporated into newly designed facilities ranges from new technologies to adding gates.

'We bar lots of windows around the exterior of the institution now. Sometimes the wardens beef them up even further with the addition of bars in high security institutions,' he added. 'The initial hardening was in reaction to incidents several years ago [in federal facilities].'

Even though it has been many years since a riot in a federal facility, the desire to make a facility even more secure has not waned.

Higgins said designers are now asked to make room for close circuit TV surveillance and recording as well as more sophisticated radio systems for the staff.

Higgins said the new BOP facilities have more security barriers and control points, such as gates, as well as a new surveillance ability.

According to Nadel, the AIA's Justice Facility Review this year saw other technology additions in corrections design. Those additions included biometric touch screens, intrusion alarms, and infrared motion detection. Besides added security, Nadel said, these technologies can also help agencies during budget time.

'If they are used effectively you can save on staffing and you may not need a roving person [on the perimeter] if you can use motion detectors or cameras in key places. That is the advantage. It is a one time cost, plus maintenance,' she said. 

This is not lost on corrections officials.

Some have noted that security has been a big issue in facility design for local agencies since September 11th.

Loomis said that he has seen a few differences in design for law enforcement and sheriff's agencies as well as court houses.

911 Communication Centers are a new trend for these agencies as officials help law enforcement and emergency management personnel work more closely through one system.

In the past, 911 dispatch centers were in underground bunkers and then graduated to being part of a law enforcement agency's building. Now they can be stand alone centers or be part of a larger criminal justice complex with a jail attached.

'The trend is the need for better communications, especially with September 11th, communication was a big issue,' Loomis said.

Loomis said architects are designing buildings with larger setbacks from the main road and are increasing overall security at these centers.

'They are concerned about blast resistance and are pulling back from public ways where people can park trucks with bombs,' he said.

In Salt Lake City, Loomis designed a new 911 center that was able to accommodate some of the security concerns about the Olympics and simultaneously help local law enforcement and emergency agencies communicate better.

'It was designed to incorporate the sheriff and all the police from the 17 jurisdictions in the valley. They consolidated all these municipalities,' said Loomis.

BOP Alters Traditional Design Approach

With a huge building program underway that includes 14 new federal prisons, the BOP has tried to integrate some of the changes required by a changing population into its standard design.

'We have built so many [facilities] over the years and we are pretty well settled, but at the high security level, we are looking at different needs for the future,' said Higgins. 

The standard facility for the BOP is a campus plan for either a high security United States Penitentiary or a medium custody Federal Correctional Institution. The minimum security facilities are usually work camps that are built as satellites of the main penitentiary or institution.

Higgins said changes, such as the size of the facilities, have been slowly evolving as well as an increase in program space for inmates.

'We are 50 percent larger in terms of cells [than we were 10 years ago] and we have added program space to accommodate the extra load. Part of that accommodation is anticipating that we are overcrowded in most of our facilities,' Higgins said.

The bureau has also accommodated new technology needs for prison facilities such as computer outlets and extra duct banks for conduits. But one of the biggest changes for the bureau's Design and Construction branch is the use of the 'design-build' concept.

According to Higgins, this approach to facility design and build-out allows for a shorter turn around time from design concept to completion and lessens the potential for conflict between design and function.

'It allows us to do things quicker. It expedites the process and allows everybody to get a fix on the price before we have money invested in design. Before, you'd be at the mercy of the bid and have already spent several million on the design process,' said Higgins. 'It allows the builder and designer to work together. They can anticipate problems and both designer and builder can team up. It gives us more opportunity to catch things [that might need changes.]'

Higgins said a construction firm usually hires an architect to consult on a project's design although some construction companies have formed joint ventures with architecture firms.

Higgins said this particular trend has also forced the BOP to define its requirements for a new facility earlier in the process. 

'We've had to take a closer look at design criteria and tailor it for the project and provide more information up front than for a typical architect. It makes people think about what they need,' said Higgins.

Whether it is design-build or another motivation, corrections agencies have learned that considering future needs of the corrections population as well as the agency is an important practice.


To reach Nadel, contact her at 718-793-7106.

Keep an eye out for a new book by Nadel called Security Handbook - A Planning and Design Guide will be published in 2003. It addresses security planning and design issues for a number of building types and addresses concerns about terrorism threats.

To reach Loomis, call 757-306-4000.


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