Determination Pays Off

Typically, deciding to build a juvenile detention facility that accommodates small groups of kids requires adding staff to the payroll. If Mary Ann Wooley had taken this formula as a truism, she might have shied away from endorsing plans to build a new podular detention facility for juveniles.

Wooley is division director in charge of residential services for the Washoe County Juvenile Services Department in Reno, Nev. As much as Wooley would have welcomed an increase in staffing, she knew the county’s budget would not allow it. Still, she continued to believe that housing juveniles in smaller groups would benefit both staff and the kids, even if the staffing ratio remained unchanged.

Opened in May 2004, the new detention complex came about after a patient, decade-long wait to replace the outdated Wittenberg Hall, a linear, come-one-come-all facility built in 1961. Programming for small groups was extremely difficult. "At the time, that was state of the art, but it certainly wasn’t in terms of allowing us to separate kids in terms of their needs," says Wooley. Over the years, a succession of remodels intended to improve programs by dividing spaces only created a confusing maze of spaces.

The new Wittenberg Hall is part of the larger Jan Evans Juvenile Detention Facility, which also adds a juvenile court, probations offices and community services under one roof. Juveniles are now housed in three 36-bed pods, each consisting of three 12-bed units. Circulation flows logically through a main corridor that also brings light into the facility via the courtyard at the heart of the structure.

The design is actually a hybrid of linear and podular design; while the housing clusters are podular, some of the cells have a linear orientation. Each housing unit is monitored from a centrally-controlled desk inside the pod from which a staff member can control doors to juvenile rooms.

Project Data

Jan Evans Juvenile Justice Facility & Wittenberg Hall, Reno, Nev.

Bid Cost: $18.97 million
Owner: Washoe County Juvenile Services Department
Capacity: 108 beds
Construction Span: October 2002 to May 2004
Architect: KMD Architects
Contractor: Clark & Sullivan Constructors
Steel Cells: Norment MaxWall

"In the education classes there is the same linear/podular concept," says Calvin Gee, project architect for Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz (KMD), designers of the new center. "Washoe County had a constrained budget, and I think that going with the combination linear/podular layout enables the county to make better use of their funding."

While the Jan Evans program falls short of a true direct supervision model, Wooley says the new facility still offers more opportunities to interact with kids than the old one. "The design works," she says. Washoe County’s determined effort to provide incarcerated juveniles with key improvements, and stay within their budget constraints, has paid off.

"We’ve got to maintain the same staffing ratios of 1:9, but staff are more involved with just a small group and so they’re able to interact more with the kids," Wooley says.


In addition to staying true to a small group model, Washoe County officials had another early goal: a single room for every juvenile. Aside from from the advantage of giving kids more privacy, individual cells would make it easier to separate kids who might harm each other, while also eliminating the chronic suicide risk of bunk beds.

"When we were over capacity in the old facility, we would get a booking and have to shuffle 10 or 12 kids to make sure no one was going to kill each other," says Wooley.

Dayroom arrangements show elements of both linear and podular design.

"You couldn’t put the sex offenders here or there. We struggled to keep gang members apart. Now, the single rooms, we’ll still have two adversaries passing in the hall or the school rooms flashing gang signs, but it’s nothing like trying to house them in large dormitories."

While the Jan Evans Juvenile Facility opened just last year, the first committee to study the matter was formed in 1992. Two years later, voters turned down a ballot measure that would have funded a new juvenile center. But Wooley says she and other officials made good use of their time while the juvenile center slowly crept up the long list of pending capital improvement projects.

Through the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the county found a group that included Mike McMillen, AIA, who would provide the early programming models. Washoe County officials also were the first Western jurisdiction to attend the National Institute of Corrections’ Planning of New Institutions (PONI) program.

"If you were to look at the architectural program Mike McMillen did 10 years ago, it’s the same idea, just a lot more refined," says Wooley. "When our turn finally came, we did another growth analysis and a new needs assessment and, through the competitive bid process, found KMD Architects. We looked and talked, and we toured several KMD juvenile facilities on the West Coast, and we toured facilities throughout the United States."

On tours, Wooley’s team always had questions. What works and doesn’t work? If you had to do it over again, what would you do? "For example, everybody complained about storage space and said they didn’t have enough of it," says Wooley, who made sure Washoe County did.

The project’s healthy landscaping budget survived the value engineering phase.

"We had the disadvantage of staying in a horrible building that had long outlived its purpose. We did the best with what we could, but it just constrained everything we wanted to do," she explains. "But we had the benefit of having 10 to 12 years to really put thought into deciding what was best for kids and staff. We knew we wanted individual rooms. We knew we wanted to break the kids up."

This is not to say that Washoe County did not have to compromise; value engineering did cut into the project. Planners had originally sought units of eight juveniles, but had to raise that number to 12 to reduce costs. Other changes proved effective, like using pre-fabricated steel cells, which saved space and took about $300,000 off building costs.

Centralizing all the juvenile services in one facility was also a non-negotiable point, and the juvenile department now enjoys the familiar benefits of having a courtroom onsite. "We find that we’re moving kids out of the center because we’re having court five days a week, and it’s attached directly to the detention center, so no longer do we have to put kids in shackles and transport them downtown for court hearings."

Where the previous pair of classrooms were overcrowded, kids demonstrated more behavioral problems in school. Now the juvenile department has four classrooms and can rotate the kids from class to class, closer to a real high school setting.

"It keeps them more focused and we can hold their attention. At the old place, it was easy for their attention to wander with just two very large classrooms. We used to try to switch the kids once a day to give them a change of scenery, but they would get bored and then the problems would come up," Wooley says. "Same thing with mass dining. Being able to smoothly rotate different groups of kids through meals cuts down tremendously on fights."


The facility’s smart traffic flow can be attributed to what KMD’s Calvin Gee calls "the racetrack," the corridor that allows kids to walk from space to space without coming into contact with potential adversaries.

Designers strove to avoid a sense of isolation.

"If you can imagine, it’s almost like a circular driveway," Gee says. "It actually enhances the flow of traffic and allows the probation staff the ability to avoid cross traffic. You can have all the kids travel in clockwise or counterclockwise fashion."

One group of juveniles can exit the dining room back to the housing units while another set of juveniles is going through the dining room, traveling on opposite ends of the corridor. "It allowed the operator maximum flexibility to control circulation, segregate different flows of traffic, and even isolate problems that occur if you do cross traffic," Gee explains.

The courtroom is located in the administrative wing, near the front entrance of the building, and accessed through a separate path to the detention area. "The probation officers really like this because they aren’t spending all their time running back and forth to court," says Wooley. "They have more time to do quality case management, which is what you want out of them."

But the racetrack works in conjunction with the facility’s most distinguishing characteristic: an interior courtyard. The racetrack surrounds the courtyard, bringing light inside and offering views elsewhere in the facility to make it more transparent.

At any point along the looping corridor, occupants can see directly out to the open air recreation yard through secure detention windows. Secure detention windows line the entire corridor, overlooking the recreation courtyard. "You get maximum daylight along the racetrack, and that daylight bleeds into each of the housing units," says Gee.

The enclosed courtyard is at the heart of the facility, providing improved security for juveniles at recreation and bringing light to interior spaces. The durable CMU blocks contain foam that insulates the facility from heat and cold.

"The dining room also has windows overlooking the corridor, and thus overlooking the courtyard. Juveniles can be eating and see another set of juveniles playing in the courtyard. Or they can be sitting in the education wing, where there’s a large multipurpose library room. If kids are sitting in the multipurpose room, they can see other juveniles playing out there. This allows social interaction without direct contact, and that’s part of rehabilitating the juvenile."

KMD was able to fine tune this configuration from early programming by Mike McMillen, who explains the courtyard’s genesis as a security precaution. The county determined a fenced in courtyard is harder to police and prevent outsiders from throwing in contraband.

"The idea evolved that a larger interior space in the middle of the complex would be not only easier to manage but it would have the advantage of being able to open up spaces all around it to get an external view into the courtyard," says McMillen. "So you have access to it all times rather than having to take the kids specially to recreation with a natural link into the complex interior."

Wooley remembers that the old exterior courtyard proved a nuisance, from everything from an errant ball hit over the fence to the appearance of cars driven by outside kids thought to have guns. Any such threat required her to empty the courtyard. "It brings light, and the kids are protected when they’re out there. We love that feature," she says.

Though hard numbers won’t be available for a few months, Wooley reports that assaults are way down since opening last year. The reduced risk of suicide also allows the staff to breathe easier. "There was a high suicide risk for the county, so for each 36 housing bed cluster, there are potentially 12 cells on camera," says Gee. "That’s a strict departure from the trend in California."

Here again, planners tweaked the direct supervision philosophy as exercised in some jurisdictions. Neighboring California does not allow extensive use of cameras; there and elsewhere, relying on cameras to monitor juvenile cells is seen as discouraging active cell tours by officers. Washoe County officials believe they can use cameras to complement, rather than hinder, the practice of touring cells at regular intervals.


The new Wittenberg Hall and Jan Evans Juvenile Center is across from the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office near downtown Reno. One of the primary design challenges for the project was that a residential development was scheduled to go up at the same time.

Designers eliminated most of the exterior fencing on the perimeter. "Anytime you have residences looking down onto a facility like this one, you have the option of landscape screening, an option of making the design profile more appealing from the hills, lighting," Gee says. "We did all of those things."

Materials used in the facility include Solar Stone, an insulating concrete masonry unit that has an additional four-inch cavity filled with foam. This provides added protection against cold and heat but, unlike an exterior insulation, retains the durable CMU surface.

The facility’s striking appearance has also helped reenergize staff. "You drive up to the building and you think, ‘This is really a beautiful building,’" says Wooley. "It blends in. It’s colorful. It’s laid out right. It represents what our department is all about. We have three divisions right there and it all flows. Staff are happy. The kids are happier."

A more functional layout that includes a court, probation offices and the department outreach program is an aid to properly classifying – and diverting – kids as needed. Although the facility is expandable, Wooley’s staff is working to keep that option well in the future. A good design can’t accomplish this by itself; it requires involvement from staff and county officials.

That was another goal the department was determined to meet: to open the new facility below capacity. Goal achieved.

"We’ve become actively involved in detention reform in trying to find alternatives to detention," says Wooley. "Prior to moving into this building, our average daily population was around 85, and since we’ve moved in we’re closer to 75. We’ve dropped almost 10 kids a day." Staff are now spending more time on finding alternatives for troubled juveniles and more quickly moving them out of the system.

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