Q&A – Design Roundtable

As one of the leading architecture firms in the justice market, DMJM offers a variety of services to nationwide clients at correctional facilities, courthouses and other facilities.

As the firm proceeds into 2007, it is working to shift from a product-oriented practice to a solutions-based practice. Correctional News recently spoke with four of the firm’s leading employees during a teleconference: Andrew Cupples, principal and leader of the justice practice; Greg Offner, vice president responsible for program and construction management services; Kenneth Jandura, justice principal and head of the practice’s Washington office; Mike Retford, justice principal responsible for the justice market in the western United States.





CN: What do you see currently happening in the correctional industry?

Cupples: I think what we’ve seen is a real resurgence in government building in general that has followed the public sector based on the flow of money.

There is still a tremendous unmet need on the detention and correctional side as well as the courts side. What we are seeing is really all parts of the business picking up.

Retford: There are several states that have a pent-up backlog that need beds and are at a pretty critical level. We’re seeing a lot of clients in quite a hurry to get new beds on line.

CN: Are there any states in particular that you’re seeing that are pushing for new construction?

Cupples: California has a major program under consideration with the governor’s initiative to solve overcrowding for both and adult and juvenile systems, as well as local jails. I think that he’s talking now about $9.5 billion dollars.

The other part of the proposal that wasn’t as well-publicized is his proposed budget includes $2 billion to support the consolidation of the court system in new facilities.

California obviously has a lot of work. In fact, what we’re seeing is even absent state funding, many of the counties are moving ahead with projects just to solve their problems.

CN: Is there a particular region where DMJM is going to be particularly strong? Where do you expect most of your business to come from?

Cupples: Recently, DMJM adopted an approach to really treat justice facilities as a national market rather than a regional market. That means rather than focusing on regions, we focus on providing the best resources for our clients regardless of where they are.

Our goal is rather than try to approach clients and sit and tell them here’s what we can do, we want to find out what their needs are and be able to serve them the best way possible. Our goal is to find out our clients’ needs and address them the best way possible.

Offner: We’re moving more from an integrated service provider to an integrated solutions provider. In other words, we’re going to give the customer what they require, with any customization that they need. We’re not delivering products, we’re delivering solutions.

CN: In a recent interview, John Dionisio, AECOM chief executive officer, said the core businesses for the company are going to be transportation, environmental and facilities. How does the corrections market fit into that outlook?

Cupples: DMJM is the primary facilities company under AECOM, and justice facilities are the major portion of our work. The real advantage for us under the AECOM umbrella is the work we’ve been able to do with our sister companies. Metcalf & Eddy, for example, got us involved in doing the 3,000-bed prison in Muscat, Oman, which is now under construction. We are also looking at some prisons in Greece, a project in Pakistan, and some work in Australia.

CN: There is a lot of buzz about re-entry and community-based facilities. Are you seeing more of those kinds of projects, instead of traditional lockups?

Retford: Yes. We are starting to see more of those types of projects — drug treatment and rehabilitation centers. I think there is an economically driven movement to move away from the harder lockups for nonviolent offenders in order to free up bed space.

We have seen other attempts in the past to find diversion beds, but I think most agencies have exhausted a lot of their nonlockup diversion.

Jandura: We are seeing it across the spectrum of justice facilities. An example here in Washington is the new juvenile facility for the district. It’s based on the Missouri model, which focuses on the rehabilitation of juveniles and not a hardcore institution.

We are also seeing it with courts, particularly in Maricopa County, Ariz., where restorative justice is implemented and the judges get involved with the cases from start to finish.

Offner: There is also the transitional-living component, where inmates with less than three years to serve on their sentences are taken to another level of custody. It helps them integrate back into society and it takes them out of their secure institutions because with three years left, most of the time they are not a flight risk.

Cupples: In fact, the major portion of the funding proposals this year in California are really targeted toward re-entry facilities and job trainings — programs that try to help offenders be a little bit more successful upon release and reduce the revolving door.

Retford: We’ve done a facility here in Utah where I’ve done quite a bit of work. It was the first medium-security dormitory and the state was quite nervous about going to a dormitory environment. The facility turned into a therapeutic rehabilitation unit and the program is now at both the major facilities in the state. It has a five- or six-year track record now, and there has been a significant reduction in recidivism at those facilities.

Cupples: One of the other areas we’re seeing an emphasis on is facilities for female offenders. To a large extent, that portion of the population had not grown as greatly as the male population in the past and it was not a major issue. Right now, we’re working on three major facilities specifically for females.

CN: How does working with females change the planning process?

Cupples: I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I think we went through a period where there was a lot of exploration of ideas. Then we went through a period where we basically moved more toward warehousing and getting beds online.

Now, I think especially on the female side, we’re seeing concerns for maintaining family ties and quality of environment. I think the other thing that is interesting is, with all the clients we are working with, there is a big emphasis right now on quality of environment for staff so they can do their jobs better. I think it really has manifested itself primarily in the work we’ve done with females and juveniles.

Retford: I think the other aspect to this is the increase we’re seeing in the demand for medical and mental health facilities within the corrections and detentions environments.

The medical aspects of correctional facilities are being driven by some of the drug addiction issues — methamphetamine use and other drugs — that tend to cause severe health problems with offenders. We’re seeing quite a few of those types of projects coming out.

Jandura: What we see a lot on the East Coast is the local county detention facilities absorb most of the mental health people in the community. They’re reaching out in terms of how to deal with these people in-house with specialized staff and separate components in the facilities to house these inmates.

Cupples: Jails and prisons have become the mental health facility of last resort for a lot of folks who cannot get services in the community, and I think the courts are becoming a social service agency by default.

CN: It seems like regional jails are really becoming an attractive option for a lot of the counties lately. Do you think that is the case?

Jandura: We are currently working on the first regional jail in Maryland for three counties and what’s coming out of the study is potentially a facility that is dealing with special treatment particularly for drugs and mental health.

The cost is so high for one county, the decision here is for the three counties to help fund the project and operational costs.

Retford: I agree. I think we’re seeing quite a few more of those types of projects come online. A lot of jurisdictions are still dealing with the enabling legislation that allows them to do that. In some states, counties are not allowed to do that kind of project by law so they’re going through the legislative process so they can do those types of facilities.

Cupples: It also involves geography. If you take a look at a map, you’ll see that a lot of the counties in the West are much larger than counties in the East. So in the West, the ability to build regional facilities is much more difficult.

One thing we’re also seeing with several of our clients is regional solutions for specialized services. We’re working with one client specifically that is examining if the new justice center in the region can be a regional center for mental health and inpatient beds. That costs every county a tremendous amount of money when they have to put somebody in the hospital and have an officer stand over them and rent beds.

We think there is real promise in that idea as a model for the future.

CN: Do you think all of these concepts we have discussed mark a distinct new era for corrections?

Cupples: I would like to think we’re on a constant path of reinventing the wheel. What we’re really trying to do is to work with clients to find the best answer for the future.

Offner: We are moving from a product delivery company to a company that delivers solutions. We see ourselves doing a whole lot more due diligence early on in projects for our clients to find ways to lower not only the price of construction but develop solutions for how they operate their facilities.