A Centrifugal Force

Jail design has come a long way since the days of the Panopticon, a circular prison design introduced in the late 1700s that was created to allow officers to observe inmates from a central vantage point without allowing the inmates to see who is watching.

Jurisdictions have several options when considering plans for new facilities and renovations, but officials in El Paso County, Colo., found that the centuries-old Panopticon design still had merit in modern times when it came time to design a new housing wing at the cramped county jail.

Built in 1988, the 384-bed facility had been suffering growing pains for more than a decade before expansion was possible. In 1992, officials were forced to double-bunk a majority of the cells and bring in sled beds, which bumped the facility’s total inmate capacity to 792. From 1993 on, the facility saw a steady population growth of 6.5 percent each year.

The situation was dangerous for correctional officers and inmates alike.

“Several of the wards inside the medium-security facility held around 100 or more inmates, with just one deputy supervising,” says Commander Mitch Lincoln, project representative for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department. “It was an unsafe situation for everybody.”

To improve the situation, the sheriff’s department faced a threefold challenge: The department needed a new facility that would afford the maximum visibility to correctional officers; the jail needed a minimum-security environment that would be conducive to a work-release program; and the facility needed to be designed quickly, while allowing the sheriff’s department to stay within budget.

After touring a round detention center in nearby Jefferson County, El Paso officials decided they liked the efficiencies that were created with the design.

“We agreed that a round tower provided optimum visibility, so we elected to go ahead with that design,” Lincoln says. “There are really no corners in a round facility, so you can see almost every aspect of the jail from a central location.”

The county selected CSNA Architects of Colorado Springs to carry out the project. The firm worked in conjunction with Denver-based Reilly Johnson Architecture, which had been instrumental in designing the Jefferson County facility.

Open-Plan Design

In order to maximize visibility, the design team opted for an open-plan concept, which divided each of the three circular floors into four equal wards. Like spokes on a giant wheel, all four wards are connected to a main hub: the central control room where jail personnel can monitor each ward.

“A real advantage to the round jail is the big reduction in personnel,” says George Diestelkamp, El Paso County Facilities Department representative. “A deputy can observe four different wards without leaving his station.”

Each of the tower’s three floors contains a control room and an additional mezzanine level for extra bed space, giving the facility the appearance of having six floors.

“It’s based on the concentric ring theory,” says Greg Gulliksen, project architect. “The hub is the central control area in the middle; the next ring out is a circulation area around the control room; the next ring out is the dayroom; and the last ring contains the sleeping areas and the shower and toilet area.”

Each ward contains nine dormitory-style sleeping bays where inmates are grouped together without doors or bars. Each bay contains eight bunk beds and eight lockers.

Sheriff’s officials did not want to have doors on individual cells, since they could hinder visibility. Inmates are free to roam their ward and socialize with one another in the minimum-security setting.

The jail follows a true direct-supervision model, where a deputy is at a workstation inside each ward to monitor and interact with inmates on a constant basis. In the event that a deputy has to leave his station, a security technician will observe the ward from the control room.

The dormitory-style design is also conducive to inmates participating in the county’s Gateway: Through the Rockies program, which aims to reduce recidivism by offering inmates life-skills classes and opportunities to get hands-on work experience.

“Certain inmates that need to leave during the day for work can check out, change into civilian clothing, and come back at night, without having to go through the process of being locked behind bars and getting checked in,” Gulliksen says.

Architects hit a snag when they realized too much visibility could create problems.

“We’ve got lots of windows looking in, but the drawback is that inmates can look from one unit to another through the windows at the central core area of the ward,” Gulliksen says. “That’s a big deal. You don’t want inmates to see other inmates across the hall with gang affiliations and things like that.”

To minimize unwanted visibility, the design team applied a reflective film to all the windows facing the wards. Deputies can see out, but inmates cannot see in. Much like the 18th-century Panopticon, the El Paso County jail design keeps inmates from seeing who is watching them.

In an effort to make the facility more palatable for inmates, the design team brightened up the wards with a 20-mil thick, reflective epoxy on the concrete floors. A special acoustic tiling also helps to dampen noise inside the building. A washer and dryer in each ward and a bi-weekly linen and clothing exchange are included in each ward, and inmates are allowed to do laundry whenever they want.

“The only drawback from an inmate standpoint is that they lose a little bit of privacy, because there are no cells, no door for them to close, and there are common toilets,” Lincoln says.

Precast vs. Masonry Construction

Following the example of the Jefferson County facility, the design team originally planned on traditional masonry construction for the exterior of the building. However, JE Dunn Construction, the project’s general contractor, suggested precast construction as a way to trim the building schedule and reduce overall costs to the county.

The contractor saved about six weeks of construction time, in addition to reducing the cost of labor by using prefabricated panels, rather than mixing and erecting concrete blocks on-site.

“The biggest advantage to using precast is the erection time,” Gulliksen says. “The precast company just trucks out the pieces that have been fabricated in the precaster’s yard and erects them on the site, right off the trucks.”

Another consideration for using precast construction was that it could be used in virtually any type of weather, a bonus for the construction site that was subject to very cold temperatures mixed with surprisingly warm days. The precast pieces were manufactured in the precaster’s yard in a controlled environment and stored until installation time.

“You can erect a precast building in winter or summer because all you’re doing is welding pieces together with steel plates,” Gulliksen says. “Whereas with masonry, you have to tent your area to maintain a certain level of heat for your mortar and concrete products to avoid freezing. In summer, it can work just the opposite. You don’t want your concrete to cure too quickly because it won’t achieve its maximum strength.”

The project architect, contractor and engineer teamed up with local precaster Stresscon to develop the 1,500 panels, beams, columns and floor slabs that would make up the 126,000-square-foot tower.

“The biggest challenge for the precast company was making panels for a round building,” says Jim Davis, project manager for Stresscon. “Everything we make is square. We ended up with what we call pie-shaped pieces for the flooring to make all these square components fit in a round facility.”

Each piece is embedded with a steel tongue that allowed the panels to be welded together. To help reduce project costs, the architects designed the building so that all the exterior windows lined up in each piece of precast, so the precaster could re-use the same mold. Stresscon met with electrical, plumbing and mechanical subcontractors to figure out the placement of light switches, conduits, outlets and wiring in order to correctly align all of the wall panels.

Insulated sandwich panels used on the exterior walls allowed the county to achieve an insulation value of around R-12. A concrete wall without insulation usually has a value of R-1.

Due to the high level of coordination required on the project, Stresscon came away with a unique experience that company officials hope to repeat on future jobs.

“[CSNA Architects] was a huge help to us on this job,” says Davis. “They did something we haven’t done on other jobs, which is to hold a submittal party when it came time to review the assembly drawings. The architects sat down with us and all the trades guys at the same table and ironed out all the details we needed to work out on the drawings.”

The county further reduced construction costs by installing a video visitation system, eliminating the need for a public visitation area inside the jail and a corridor to take inmates to that visitation location.

“We wanted to use a video visitation system, which would allow the inmates to communicate with their families and attorneys through closed circuit TV,” Diestelkamp says. “The system allowed us to completely eliminate that inmate corridor, which greatly reduced the cost of construction because it reduced the size of the building.”

Installed by Multimedia Telesis Incorporated of Tempe, Ariz., the jail’s visitation system consists of video booths inside the facility where inmates can receive visitors calling from a separate building across the street from the justice center.

Juggling Act

With the addition of 864 beds, the county had to prepare for an increased inmate population, which meant renovations to the existing jail. While the new housing tower was under construction, the existing facility underwent a 32-phase construction process, which included construction of the new building, temporary inmate housing, additional administrative space, and expansion of the kitchen and laundry areas.

“You have to be prepared to do a little planning for things that need to be changed or upgraded as a result of an addition,” Lincoln says. “You can’t just plop on an addition and then open the doors and fill it. Support areas need to be upgraded or expanded.”

A third of the jail’s exterior recreation space was absorbed to make room for a new master control room, briefing room and office space. Architects also doubled the square footage of the medical unit, bringing the number of infirmary holding cells from six to 14.

Security features on the existing 11 wards inside the medium-security jail were also upgraded. The original wood-core, commercial -grade doors were replaced with steel doors with detention-grade, deputy-controlled locks. Before the renovation, deputies did not have remote access to the door locks, as they were simple key locks. Other modifications included the installation of video visitation screens and upgrades to the smoke evacuation system.

The conundrum of how to perform renovations and construct the new tower while keeping the existing jail open presented project members with their biggest challenge yet. The laundry and kitchen areas were closed during the expansion and the minimum- and medium-security inmates inside the old jail were temporarily relocated while the existing wards were renovated.

Architects worked with the county to come up with a temporary solution. Since the county wanted to build an evidence storage facility at the justice complex, the design team suggested building the facility and using it as a temporary housing unit until construction was completed. Constructed 100 yards south of the existing jail, the minimum-security building housed up to 150 trustees and work-release inmates while upgrades were done inside the existing facility. Sheriff’s personnel rotated medium- and maximum-security wards as needed within the old jail.

Inmates Lend a Hand

As part of the county’s work release program, more than 100 inmates helped build the facility during the two-year period it was under construction. The sheriff’s department wanted to use inmate labor to give participants an opportunity to develop their skills, while cutting down on project costs.

“We figured that we had a net savings of around $225,000 by utilizing inmate labor on the project,” Lincoln says.

Program participants were selected by various subcontractors to help with area clean-up, painting, plumbing and electrical work. Subcontractors paid the program $7.50 an hour for inmate workers, which was significantly cheaper than hiring their own laborers. Of that amount, participants received about $2.50 an hour. However, for some inmates, the rewards were more substantial.

“Several inmates were offered full-time positions with the subcontracting companies when they were released,” Lincoln says.

“The advantage of being able to move these inmates temporarily into the housing unit was that we could empty out one ward at a time in the old portion of the jail and do the necessary changes,” Lincoln says.

During construction, the general contractor had one superintendent working in the new building and another working on the additions inside the existing jail to help coordinate inmate transport with sheriff’s officials.

“To keep that area of the jail up and running and have construction going on at the same time, you have to work with officers in charge and find out what works best for them,” Gulliksen says. “You have to work together.”

During the three months that the kitchen area was shut down, the sheriff’s department arranged for food to be brought in from another county facility, but maintaining laundry services proved to be more difficult.

“We had a really difficult time with the laundry situation,” Lincoln says. “We searched locally for different commercial providers and were told that either they couldn’t handle that sort of volume or the cost was too great.”

The sheriff’s department ended up working with Teller County, which agreed to assist El Paso with its laundry for three to four months while its facility was being expanded.

Looking Forward

Despite the 864-bed addition, sheriff’s officials are hoping for another expansion soon. Due to the closure of the downtown maximum-security jail, the criminal justice center is nearing its 1,530-bed capacity.

“We want to do a maximum-security tower on the south end of the complex,” Lincoln says. “The housing towers would bookshelf either end of the complex.”

The sheriff’s department already has a design for a 480-bed tower, but is awaiting county approval. The housing unit would have four floors, with the same mezzanine style as the minimum-security tower, and the same concentric design with the control room at the center. The only difference would be that instead of open sleeping bays, there would be cells and higher-grade detention components on the doors. The cells would be steel, pre-manufactured units, which would be dropped in during construction.


Facility Name: El Paso County Criminal Justice Center
Type: Precast and masonry construction with direct supervised dormitory detention wards and facility expansion
Construction Budget: $31.7 million
Number of Beds: 864 new inmate beds, 800 existing inmate beds, 15 new medical beds
Area: 126,000-square-foot housing tower addition, 54,000-square-foot remodel and additions
Start Date: May 2003
Completion Date: February 2005


Owner/Operator: El Paso County Sheriff’s Department

Owner Representative: El Paso County Facilities Management

Architect: CSNA Architects / Reilly Johnson Architecture

Construction Manager: JE Dunn Constructionz

General Contractor: JE Dunn Construction


Product Manufacturers

Food Service: Duray / J.F. Duncan Industries Inc.
Ventilators: Carroll
Steam Kettles: Cleveland
Walk-In Coolers/Freezers: Kolpak
Refrigeration: Traulsen
Ovens: Vulcan; Roll-In Rack Oven: Lang
Custom Stainless Equipment: Scherer Metals
Pneumatic Tube System: Airteq Systems
Correctional Furniture: Juniper Valley
Detention Accessories: Juniper Valley
Security Systems: Metroplex Control Systems
CCTV: Metroplex Control Systems
UPS: Cummins
Touchscreen System: Metroplex Control Systems
Televisitation System: Multimedia Telesys, Incorporated
Intercom: Metroplex Control Systems
Security Glazing: G.E. Polymershapes
Security Windows: Frames – American Steel; Glass — G.E. Polymershapes
Security Cell Doors: Norment Security Group
Security Fencing: Academy Fence
Security Locks: Airteq Systems
Security Penal Plumbing: Acorn Engineering Co.
Security Sprinkler Equipment: Viking
Smoke Detection System: Simplex
Weapons Detection System: By Owner
Drug Detection System: By Owner
Concrete: Lafarge North America
Precast Concrete Cells: Stresscon Corporation
Exterior Finish: Tinted Precast – Stresscon Corp.; Intragel Colored Masonry – McKinney Concrete Products
Roofing: Carlisle Syntec Inc. – Fleeceback EPDM
Gypsum Wallboard: USG – Sheetrock
Floor/Wall Tile: Trenwyth Industries – glazed block
Raised Access Flooring: Interface AR – Tec-crete II
Security Ceiling System: USG Hi-Impact wallboard
Sally Port/Doors: Door Engineering & Manufacturing Co.
Plumbing: Ute Plumbing
Security Cell Lighting: Morlite

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