Although correctional facilities are designed to keep criminals captive for various amounts of time, they are far from stagnant. Inmates move from housing units to medical facilities and workstations, and every day new prisoners arrive, while others are released.
Large county jail systems, such as the one in Orange County, Fla., highlight the transient nature of correctional facilities. For more than 15 years, the county has received 51,000 new inmates annually, an average of about 140 a day. In 2005, the county processed 54,700 inmates.
To cope with the burgeoning intake process the county is in the process of opening a new booking and release center in Orlando that also incorporates court and medical facilities.
“We are very excited about it,” says Don Bjoring, manager of professional services for the county.
The new facilities are long overdue for the county, according Bjoring and several other county corrections employees, who say operations will be greatly improved when the entire facility is opened.
Name: Orange County, Fla., Booking and Release Center
"The current booking facility we are using was designed to book about 75 people a day, but our current booking rate is about 150 a day,” Bjoring says. “It’s dramatically overcrowded in there and it’s an extremely badly designed building. There’s no way to make the modern booking process flow logically with it, so we are very frustrated with that and very anxious to move in.”
In addition to the capacity problems at the building that was built in 1984, it lacks space to accommodate modern computer equipment and storage space is limited. AFIS machines take up a large amount of available room and there is no room for additional units.
“All of the new electronics that are necessary to operate a booking facility today don’t fit in the building very well,” Bjoring says. “We don’t have enough conduit to run as many ports as we need to operate all the necessary computers.”
“Problems with inmate transport also complicate matters. The facility’s sally port is too small for the number of offenders that are brought to the facility by more than 20 jurisdictions.
“The sally port is woefully undersized for the number of vehicles that we deal with right now,” Bjoring says. “We can fit 12 vehicles in the sally port and there is virtually no other parking.”
However, the limited parking does not cause arresting officers or others to stray away from the facility.
“Anybody who has worked in law enforcement or corrections knows that cops are going to park their cars where the need to park them to get prisoners inside the sally port,” Bjoring says. “Sometimes that means blocking driving lanes and putting themselves and others at risk by having to walk their prisoners across areas that are not well secured.”
With all of the facility’s problems in mind, County Mayor Richard Crotty formed a blue ribbon commission, the Jail Oversight Commission, to examine medical and mental health care and overcrowding at county correctional facilities.
The committee returned with 202 recommendations, which lead to the April 2003 approval of construction plans. The plans marked the second phase of a construction project that included a new 652-bed women’s facility that opened in March 2003 and a new video-visitation center that was constructed across the street from the 67-acre complex. Five correctional facilities that are housed at the complex were outfitted with video visitation equipment.
A Streamline Process
In addition to the construction of larger facilities to alleviating overcrowding and space shortages, Orange County officials planned to include several additional services at the booking and release center. The facility also includes courtrooms, medical services and offices for the state attorney, public defenders, clerk of the court, court administration and several county corrections department units.
There are 592 jail beds divided into 12 dormitories, including 280 beds for inmates who have made their initial court appearance, but cannot be released, and about 100 beds for medical treatment and 200 beds for mental health patients. The medical and mental health units are the first correctional facilities in the county’s history to be constructed specifically for that purpose.
“We, like many jails, have had sort of a make-do system for dealing with the physically infirm and mentally ill,” Bjoring says. “It was a compromise and for us it hasn’t been a particularly happy compromise.”
Although the facility is not complicated in its physical design, it posed a challenge for planners, who were forced to incorporate about 20 different functions within the building.
“We do a lot of corrections work,” says Jim Strollo, of Strollo Architects, project architect. “We’ve done a number of intake areas at other facilities, but nothing quiet this large. This was a big project for us — kind of a milestone project.”
Strollo says the planning process started with one of the most critical aspects of a correctional facility — flow.
He says an emphasis was put on the flow of people throughout the building. The initial planning process started with information-gathering sessions with corrections employees.
“We set up a series of charettes and we asked for the corrections department to provide staff that was currently working in the existing center and also staff that would be involved in the operation of the new facility.” Strollo says. “We went through the development of flow diagrams — from the time an arrestee is brought into the vehicular sally port and what happens to him during the process.”
The process gave the firm insight into operations at the facility and how they could be improved to increase efficiencies. Strollo says oftentimes when firms embark on corrections construction projects, the intake area of the facility is neglected.
“One of the things that we’ve learned over the years is that a lot of other firms that we see don’t quite grasp the intake process,” Strollo says. “This particular element of a jail is kind of the heart of the jail. If you don’t get this right at a correctional facility, the rest of the facility seems to suffer.”
Owner/Operator: Owner — Orange County Board of County Commissioners; Operator —Orange County Corrections Department
An important aspect of offender movement that Strollo focused on was separation between new arrivals at the facility and offenders leaving at the time of their release. When the two groups interact, there is the possibility of contraband entering the facility if a released offender passes his property to a new arrival.
“They have property and there’s a possibility for contamination,” Strollo says. “You have a real problem and at a lot of older facilities, the people that run them become more and more aware of just how big the liability issue is.”
Several other aspects of the facility improve efficiency, according to officials, including medical and mental health and the judicial areas, and a new sally port.
After 10 years of using video conferencing technology to conduct court hearings from the county jail, Orange County officials instead opted to build three courtrooms at the lockup, where judges and lawyers attend proceedings in person.
Holding court proceeding at the booking and release center will eliminate delays in instances where part of a proceeding must be conducted in person, such as lawyer conferencing, according to county officials.
“I can’t say that this is true in other jurisdictions because I haven’t studied other jurisdictions, but I’ve been working in this jurisdiction for 27 year and we’ve found that video hearings are a false economy for us,” Bjoring says. “They looked good years ago when we did it — you didn’t have to transport prisoners downtown. But, the problem was the savings were a drop in the bucket compared to the (savings from) the ability to get cases cleared early and have decisions made earlier.”
Bjoring says that lawyers and judges were willing to make basic procedural decision via video hearings, but they wanted everyone to be in the same room for weightier decisions. The court facilities are designed to accommodate a public gallery and a witness stand, which will be separated from the courtroom floor by security glass.
All probation hearings will be held at the facility, which will significantly lighten the burden on the county’s civilian courthouse. A courtroom was opened and put to use several weeks before other parts of the new facility opened.
“It’s working for us,” Bjoring says. “We’re seeing cases argued and sentenced and they never make it to another docket.”
Custom Stainless Equipment: Advanced Metal Products Correctional
The medical and mental health areas at the new facility will improve efficiencies by consolidating the county’s inmate health care services. Once the facilities are fully operational, some of the six small clinics that are located throughout the county will close and staff will be transferred to the new facility.
The new sally port facility is designed to eliminate the congestion problems that occurred at the previous facility. It is capable of holding 18 vehicles in a secured covered area and there are 15 additional spaces in a secured area that sits adjacent to the covered area. The sally port is also capable of housing buses.
The basic booking process will be vastly improved at the new facility with several new developments that were not included in the county’s previous facility, according to officials.
“The law enforcement and corrections basic booking operation will be dramatically improved,” Bjoring says.
To improve the flow of new offenders, incoming offenders will receive a brief medical evaluation before they embark on any other aspects of the booking process. The county plans to eventually receive booking documents wirelessly.
“We expect to get our arrest affidavits wirelessly so the data entry job will be dramatically reduced,” Bjoring says. “Everybody that works with data operations knows that every time you touch a key you have an opportunity to make a mistake.”
But, until then employees and inmates will have to go with the flow.