It was built to confine the most troubled adolescents in the Pennsylvania criminal justice system, but designed to let the inmates perceive themselves as students. At the privately run New Morgan Academy in Morgantown, Pa., treatment takes place within a residential setting that masks a simple, high-security infrastructure.
"This building is one of the nation’s most secure in the juvenile range," says Todd Eads, construction manager for Cornell Companies Inc., which built and now operates the 214-bed facility that opened in October 2000. Eads and other project team members say that it’s inside the building where New Morgan really earns its "Academy" title. Furniture and doors are wood and cells are carpeted. The gymnasium looks like it could fit any public high school. "Its designed to be a secure institution that does not feel like a secure institution," says Eads, explaining the high level of fit and finish.
New Morgan Academy is the largest prototype ever undertaken by Houstonbased Cornell Abraxas, Cornell’s juvenile division, which currently owns 36 facilities throughout the country. For Cornell Abraxas, the first line of security is a high staff-to-inmate ratio, approximately 1:5. The physical security provisions could be streamlined because the firm relies on staff involvement with inmates, or "clients," as Cornell calls them. Every staff member at New Morgan trained to understand the basic components of interacting with troubled youth.
The average New Morgan inmate has been in some form of juvenile treatment program four times before reaching this mountaintop facility in rural Pennsylvania. They are the hard-to-place boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 18: fire starters, sex offenders, chronic drug abusers, and habitual offenders.
The make-up of the population required the mountain-top facility have a flexible, multi-purpose floor plan that separates various groups, intense and secure supervision, and also extensive educational and vocational rehabilitation programs.
Mountaintop Clearing and Construction
Owner: Cornell Abraxas
Surrounded by thick stands of trees, the facility lends itself to comparisons to boarding school campuses. The 10-acre site includes two regulation soccer fields and two outdoor basketball courts. And because the building itself operates as the secure perimeter, there are no fences with razor ribbon. Designers played with the mass and height of the facility to avoid a monolithic facility. "It’s a nice, peaceful setting away from traffic and population," says John Kniesz, project architect for Durrant Justice.
For construction manager Landmark Organization, however, New Morgan’s remote, virgin site posed a challenge. The construction team would have to deforest not only the mountaintop but also clear a path for the 2.5-mile road they built off Route 10 outside Morgantown.
The roadway alone took four months to complete. "In that part of the country, there are exceptional value streams, requiring a contractor to pay strict attention to erosion sediment controls so as not to pollute the waters of the Commonwealth," says Landmark project manager Chuck Lamb, who has worked with Cornell Abraxas on many previous projects. Even after the stream was crossed, it took more than two months to reach the top of the hill. From there, it took another three weeks for site grading and preparation for pouring the footers.
Along with the site’s remote location, extreme slopes made bringing permanent power and telephone service to the site a tough undertaking. A sizable rock content in the ground required the use of hoe rams to provide a clean base for the utilities and footers.
Landmark faced similar obstacles down at the bottom of the hill a new waste treatment facility, constructed by Dutchland Corporation for the borough of New Morgan as part of the community’s agreement to accept the Academy. "Landmark ran a force main [piping system] out of the complex," said Lamb, and "by the time we tied into the waste treatment facility, we had approximately 2.75 miles worth of four-inch force main."
Once the site was cleared, the 17-month-long construction project ran smoothly, according to Eads, a fact he credits to the design/build process, which allowed them to enhance the project without cumbersome change orders interrupting the process. The late addition of the waste treatment facility, for example, did not hamper the project team.
And as the $30 million facility took shape, builders were able to spot correct the hallways was switched to wall-mounted detention lamps above the doors, a change that helped increase officer visibility. When the decision to add an unplanned third floor to Dorm B was made, the Cornell Abraxas staff quickly stepped in to suggest the new floor consist of single occupancy rooms, which now house sex offenders.
Cornell Abraxas currently has contracts with the majority of counties in Pennsylvania, but the largest number of New Morgan residents come from within the Philadelphia juvenile justice system. Adolescents from New York, Ohio, and West Virginia also are treated here, often when their juvenile justice systems have proven ineffective.
Multipurpose and Secure Facility
When the Durrant team joined the New Morgan project, John Kniesz first envisioned a typical direct supervision solution with all the rooms opening onto a large common space. But Cornell Abraxas would be housing five different populations, and some of these groups required separation. Moreover, the various populations would change in size, meaning that the units would have to serve two or even three functions as groups grow or shrink. "We also had to meet the direct supervision requirement to keep an eye on the kids at all times," says Kniesz.
The solution was an updated version of a conventional configuration from years past: the double-loaded corridor. Matching three-story dormitories comprise the housing areas, with two housing units on each floor. Bathrooms, a potential trouble spot in any correctional facility, are placed adjacent to duty stations so care workers have a direct view of sinks and curtained shower stalls through detention glass. At both ends of each corridor stands the duty station, from which care workers can clearly see every door in their unit and also down the hall to the adjacent unit. "The corridors are short enough and wide enough for good observation," says Kniesz, which ensures a short response time.
The dual units on each floor can be operated together or separately, a key feature in accommodating different populations that constantly change size. Locking metal doors between the units act as a partition, allowing units to operate independently. Even when closed, windows in the doors allow continued observation by care workers in opposing stations. In essence, each unit can have two staff observers, or two observers can help one another monitor the other’s unit. Cameras and recordable CCTV round out the system.
Panels used to control doors are simple units. "They don’t have any switches on the surface of the panel," says Brian Mikiten of Secure Control Systems, the project’s security electronics contractor. The buttons correspond directly to the doors, telling operators which doors are locked layout is the same as what they see by eye when looking down the corridor. Because each of the 12 local duty stations is identical, care workers can exchange positions without having to familiarize themselves with a new duty position. "You want a very straightforward, easy-to-use system," says Mikiten.
Another aid to simplicity and flexibility is a partially integrated electronic security system. Door access and fire systems are integrated with a high-speed Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), but other security components like the intercom and CCTV are not. "That way, if your CCTV system goes down, it is the only system within your security package that fails," says Mikiten. In addition, the PLC can easily accommodate future upgrades.
Instead of hard-wiring the door control panels, distributed data networks are set up between all panels and the PLC, allowing one PLC to update and monitor all door control panels at a very high speed. The configuration also saves money. "Hard-wiring the system to run a wire to each panel costs more in cabling," says Mikiten. "Distributed data networks cut down dramatically on the wiring but still provide high-speed interfacing. Just a couple of wires are needed to communicate with each panel, as opposed to using hundreds of wires."
Door position switches allow control station operators to maintain a high supervision level in an unobtrusive way, and also allowed planners to reduce the number of cameras in the facility.
The wooden doors and beds, the most striking examples of the residential environment, required planners to find standard dormitory furniture that approached the durability of detention-grade products. After a long search for dayroom furniture, planners selected heavy-duty but soft-cushioned, butcher-block chairs. "The key was to have it heavy enough and secure enough that if a couple of kids threw it against a wall, it wouldn’t break," says Kniesz. "It all had to be one monolithic unit so you couldn’t break it apart and hide contraband. We found some that met security needs and also achieved the residential feel Cornell Abraxas was looking for."
Cornell chose sturdy captains’ beds and wardrobes but had the furniture manufacturer remove the closet doors. The furniture has few joints and is bolted to both the floor and walls. Security caulking was applied around the entire bed, so there’s no place to hide contraband," says Kniesz.
Should a juvenile prove determined to damage furniture despite these precautions, case workers can order the wooden furniture removed and the juvenile’s room will begin to look more like a cell – an added incentive for good behavior. Control by incentive also includes a power switch on the outside of each room, making the withdrawal of radio privileges instantaneous.
"It looks like a dormitory, but yet they maintained security," concludes Mikiten.
Rehabilitation and Education
Dormitory Furniture: Moduform
The trend in juvenile justice is to lock room doors only at night. By taking this approach in housing the most troubled adolescents, Cornell Abraxas is relying on the caseworkers operating the duty stations to perform the monitoring.
"It’s not that we don’t have physical security," says Cornell Vice President Jack Godlesky. "But we teach our staff to rely on their ability to form a positive relationship with the clients, to anticipate problems, and to put kids who are experiencing problems under close watch."
The program boasts a staff-to-inmate ratio of between 1:4 and 1:6, depending on the classification of the juvenile. Even the janitorial staff receives training in identifying and dealing with problems that could lead to disturbances. The high level of staff involvement in the inmates’ activities minimizes the need for other security provisions and contributes to the residential feeling Cornell Abraxas is trying to achieve.
"A primary role of our clinical staff is to educate kids on basic life skills, correct thinking, and all the other things that go into the caring of a multi-problematic delinquent," says Godlesky. "Each clinician sits down alone with each individual client on a weekly basis, but we also want a lot of their work to occur in the milieu and make them a part of the supervisory pattern."
Within these parameters, the inmates at New Morgan Academy move about the facility as students, flowing in and out of their rooms during their day to attend classes. "We only lock kids’ rooms over the nighttime hours, so thats not even an issue for us on a 16 hour-a-day basis," Godlesky adds.
More than 16,000 square feet of space 13 percent of the facility’s total area facilitys 12 classrooms includes a fully operational culinary training kitchen outfitted with commercial equipment. "The training kitchen is open to the classroom to allow the instructor to demonstrate procedures at the cookline," says Kniesz. "Clients may also get right into the kitchen area and do some of the work themselves."
To allow the simultaneous but separate movement of different juvenile groups through the facility, the dorms are connected by two parallel corridors running the length of the 15,000-square-foot administrative building. These corridors provide access to the classrooms, the gym, and an inner, open-air courtyard available for visitation or as a place to put a kid who needs to "blow off steam."
Sports activities are central to the Cornell Abraxas rehabilitation program. Theres a 9,000-square-foot gymnasium, as well as outdoor soccer fields and two outdoor basketball courts. Although Cornell decided early on to forgo perimeter fencing for the larger facility, fencing for the outdoor athletic fields was deemed a necessity.
But, here again, every effort was made to avoid reminders of incarceration. The fencing along the athletic areas, based on a design by First DeFence, looks more like a typical fence rather than something that’s ominous and dangerous.
"Even though we have perimeter security and locked doors, our primary reliance has to be on our own visual observation of kids involvement with them in terms of moving them forward in their treatment and not a reliance on the physical capacities of the facility," says Cornell’s Godlesky.
The confinement, treatment, and education of troubled juveniles does not come cheaply. The daily cost per inmate at New Morgan Academy runs between $264 and $333, three to five times higher than the cost of housing an adult inmate in a Pennsylvania correctional facility.