Community Justice

Shoehorned into a 12-acre site amid the meandering banks of the Rock River, Winnebago County’s new four-story justice center brings almost 600,000 square feet of multifunctional space to the quintessentially American-heartland townscape of downtown Rockford, Ill.

Designed by Wisconsin-based architectural firm Durrant, the layered, multidimensional envelope draws a bold 21st century footprint in its balance of function and form, aesthetics and pragmatics, and design and technology.

Accessible, transparent, safe and secure, justice has found herself a new home in the bosom of community.

As a public space, the structure is designed to blend with surrounding architecture even as it moves forth the town burghers’ vision for urban renewal. As a detention center and courthouse, the complex that opened in July is intended to create an environment that encourages good behavior among inmates just as it delivers a centralized regional justice hub for the community.

“You wouldn’t know it’s a jail, it’s one of the more beautiful buildings in the downtown area,” says Dina Getty, director of corrections for Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department.

Pragmatic Aestheticism

County officials and project principals held extensive consultations with community stakeholders during the planning and design phase of the project. A consensus emerged around a common theme of creating a structure that looked more like an inviting, modern office building than the jarring slit-windowed, barb-wired bleakness of a traditional jail.

“What it looked like on the inside was up to the sheriff, but the outside had to look nice as far as the community was concerned,” Getty says.

The $142 million justice center features four courtrooms, a 1,212-bed jail, a medical clinic, sheriff’s department office space, and satellite offices for the state’s attorney, the public defender’s office and pre-trial services.

The complex sits next to several low- and mid-rise buildings and abuts a transitional residential development at the edge of downtown Rockford . The design team recessed the justice center away from the street to ease the visual and psychological transition from urban environment to residential neighborhood.

Anchored by a park-like plaza at one corner of the site, landscaping around the recessed complex, together with multidimensional component buildings and variable layers, lines, colors and textures, aid the complex’s assimilation into the surrounding environment.

“The justice center blends well with the surrounding architecture and represents a really good reuse of a downtown quarter that was in terrible decay,” says David A. Way, PE , project manager for Durrant.

Founded in 1933, the company has offices throughout the United States and has experience developing downtown detention and courthouse projects, such as Winnebago.

“The most important aspect is figuring out how to integrate the facility with the urban environment and what works in terms of both architectural form and safety and security functionality,” Way says.

Reality of Perception

The greatest challenge with this project emerged with the realization that it was in essence two different projects combined — a public courthouse and a secure detention facility — that involve different time cycles, requirements, imperatives and objectives, Way says.

County officials and the design team felt traditional security measures, such as perimeter fencing, would undermine the architectural flow of the design and prevent the structure from blending with the surrounding downtown cityscape.

“They needed a facility that was secure, but they didn’t want it to look like a prison,” Way says. “The question became, ‘How do we create an open public area on one side and a completely secure area on the other?’”

With the an evolving conceptual plan for the project, it took time for the final design to solidify in a form that would meet the various objectives and imperatives put forth by the community and county government.

“It became clear that it was really a public building with a detention facility inside it,” says Rich Cotton, PE, Durrant’s director of information systems. “Basically, we had a building inside a building and that really changed the security and design strategy.”

Enter the Pod

The jail features a multipodular direct-supervision design model intended to enhance operational management, safety and security.

Each podular housing unit is designed to function as a self-contained unit, accommodating up to 64 inmates with communal dayroom space, recreational/exercise space, kitchen and laundry facilities, medical examination rooms and video visitation access points.

Housing units incorporate a medical examination room where visiting medical staff can perform the majority of healthcare services and procedures for the inmate population. More complex procedures and long-term treatment is provided in the jail’s central medical clinic.

The jail is equipped with a central segregation unit designed to house troublesome or special-category inmates. However, county officials hope that dedicated classroom space for rehabilitation, education and counseling programs will encourage inmates to develop positive, productive social behaviors, which will help turn their lives around when they return to the community.

In conjunction with a comprehensive technology infrastructure, the direct-supervision model enhances the ability to manage each housing unit by improving supervision and control capabilities. The new model required some adjustment for officers who were used to the linear layout of the previous facility.

“Officers had a lot of settling in to do, getting comfortable with inmate contact and taking control of the jail environment,” Getty says. “In the linear jails of the old days, when that door slammed shut behind you, the strongest inmate was in control.”

Built more than 30 years ago to house a maximum of 172 inmates, the county’s previous detention facility was holding upwards of 700 inmates.

“The old jail was dark, dangerous and inhumane, ” Getty says.

Wracked with tension, fear, anger and violence, the facility saw an average of up to five inmate-on-inmate fights per day. The new facility was in operation for more than six weeks before an incident occurred.

“We’ve seen positive results from day one, with a marked difference in inmate behavior,” Getty says. “The jail is a much safer and healthier place as a result of implementing direct supervision.”

A class action lawsuit filed in 2000 and a resulting federal court order forced the county to address the overcrowding issue, ultimately leading to the construction of the new justice center.

The move to the new facility did not merely involve a change in physical environments and conditions for officers and inmates. The county didn’t want to do things the way they had been done in the past, so nothing from the old jail, whether tangible or intangible, was brought to the new facility.

“We changed our entire operational philosophy, from meal service to booking; nothing was the same,” Getty says. “In a way, the lawsuit was the best thing that could have happened for everyone involved.”

Smaller Stick, Bigger Carrot

A 1-cent sales tax proposal was put to voters in order to generate funding for the justice center project, but before it was passed, the community specified that the measure allocate significant funding toward rehabilitation programs and alternatives to incarceration.

“The community realized that the majority of these inmates aren’t going off to prison somewhere for 15 or 20 years, but are coming straight back into this community,” Getty says.

During planning discussions county officials emphasized rehabilitation and their interest in promoting good behavior and helping inmates realize that their goal should be to get out of the system.

The old jail’s single classroom could accommodate only 12 inmates at a time for rehabilitation programs. Justice officials have expanded dedicated program space in the new jail through an additional seven classrooms, which can accommodate more than 100 inmates for educational and counseling rehabilitation program services.

“Our sheriff firmly believes in trying to return inmates to the community in better shape than when they left,” Getty says. “Rehabilitation programs inside the jail are as important as the bricks and mortar.”

Tale of Technology

Although the design team incorporated a comprehensive infrastructure of nontraditional security technologies and systems to achieve the multilayered security necessary for the facility’s downtown location, the use of technology in pursuit of those imperatives proved to be one of the defining aspects of the Winnebago project.

With more than 1,600 access points within the justice center, the facility features an access system that uses biometric identification and 38 strategically located graphic user interface units, which serve the jail’s housing units, various central spaces and internal circulation pathways. More traditional technologies and systems, including metal and x-ray scanning units, are employed at the perimeter of the justice facility.

A video surveillance system with more than 250 cameras monitors interiors as well as facility perimeters, public spaces and parking lots to enhance safety and security. The exterior placements also allow law enforcement to screen the license plate numbers of visitors to potentially identify individuals with outstanding warrants.

Face recognition technology at public access points was discussed but officials believed community or public reservations would prove an insurmountable obstacle to system deployment and implementation was shelved.

Perhaps the biggest change for the inmates and their families came with the incorporation of a video visitation system. A system configuration of 75 video visitation units on the public side and a bank of video units situated within each pod for the prisoners means there is no need to move inmates or staff. The video visitation system also acts as an extra layer of security, limiting individuals’ contact and the passage of contraband.

The incorporation of the video visitation system means inmates and visitors are no longer able to physically see one another and engage in actual face-to-face contact. Getty points out, however, that in the old jail, which had limited visiting space, prisoners often missed visits because visiting hours would end before their turn.

“Now inmates can be sure they will get their visit and with the video visitation system, visitors can schedule the visit,” Getty says.

In incorporating technology, the design team focused on ensuring that the facility design could meet the county’s objectives as it moves forward into the 21st century.

“The integration of technology to enhance operational functionality and coordination is the real highlight of this project,” Cotton says. “It portends a growing trend toward the use of technology, in general, and the integration of geo-management systems, in particular, at every level.”

Durrant designed the facility around a 2,000-square-foot data center with multiple data rooms and an information technology infrastructure that would yield flexibility in managing operations and expandability to meet future needs. In addition to the video visitation system, ancillary information technology components, include a video arraignment system and other audio-visual courtroom technology.

“This is one of the most technologically outstanding facilities with a highly flexible platform — in terms of infrastructure space, cooling, power, etcetera — that will allow for easy expansion,” Cotton says.

Bugs in the System

With a jail management system at the old facility that was antiquated and inefficient, making it difficult to access and retrieve information, officials chose to install the entirely new Offender Trak jail management system by Motorola. Adopting the new system has allowed officials to integrate records and jail management systems to enhance operational efficiency and functionality.

It allows arresting officers to complete much of the requisite intake documentation from their vehicles, reducing the time spent in the jail booking area. However, implementing a jail management system of this size and complexity proved a significant undertaking and officials readily admit there have been some problems — some of which remain to be worked out — since the facility opened.

“Anytime you get into large applications, there’s always the possibility for integration difficulties, but Motorola has been a great partner on this project,” Cotton says.

The local press reported significant delays in the booking and bonding processes at the facility, which left some people unnecessarily cooling their heels for hours.

County officials blame unavoidable, but readily resolvable, minor glitches with uploading and transferring records and reports, and accessing some training issues rather than any underlying deficiencies with the technology.

Invariably, you’ll hit bumps along the road when you go live with a system like this, Getty says.

“We’ve revamped our entire work-flow process and although we still have some system problems, the bugs are being worked out,” he says.

Shades of Green

Although environmental sustainability was not a primary objective or concern of county officials, many green design and construction elements were incorporated into the project.

The first nod to sustainability came with the location of the new center, which involved the brown field redevelopment of a downtown lot long blighted by neglect and urban decay. Many of the construction materials for the project were also locally sourced.

The design team incorporated a comprehensive storm water management system, while an energy-efficient power plant was designed specifically for the facility. Energy-efficient equipment and appliances were utilized where practicable.

The facility also makes extensive use of daylighting throughout public and courthouse spaces. Constrained by the safety and security parameters of the facility’s detention component, the design team opted to use opaque glass in the jail space, which allows for daylighting but prevents inmates from looking out.

“Initially, there was a discussion of LEED, but going after certification was ruled out fairly early on,” Cotton says.


Facility Name: Winnebago County Justice Center Type: Justice Center
Construction Budget: $124 million
Number of Beds: 1,212
Area: 587,900 square feet
Start Date: February 2005
Estimated Completion Date: July 2007

Project Team
Owner/Operator: Winnebago County , Ill.
Owner Representative: Gary A. Burdett , PE — Criminal Justice Project Director
Project Manager: Durrant — David A. Way, PE , Manager of Electrical Engineering, Principal Architect: Durrant — Gerald T. Olson, AIA, NCARB, Director of Architecture, Principal
Construction Manager: SRB Partners
Detention Equipment Contractor: Norment Security Group Inc.
Security System Consultant:
Food Service Consultant: Stewart Design Associates Inc. 

Product Manufacturers
Ventilators: Avtec
Steam Kettles: Cleveland
Cabinet Steamers: Alto-Shaam
Walk-In Coolers/Freezers: Kolpak
Refrigeration: Kairak
Ovens: Blodgett, Baxter and Alto-Shaam
Custom Stainless Equipment: Sta-Fab
Pneumatic Tube System: Return on Investment Systems
Correctional Furniture: Chief Industries Inc.
Restraint Bunks: Chief Industries Inc.
Detention Accessories: Bradley
Security Systems: Wonderware
PLC: Rockwell Automation
CCTV: Bosch
Touchscreen system: Viewsonic
Televisitation System: Harding DXI MicroComm
Intercom: Harding
Card Access: HID PROX
Personal Alarm System: Actall
Security Glazing: Global Security Glazing
Security Windows: Kawneer
Security Cell Doors: American Steel Products
Security Fencing: Allied Tube & Conduit
Security Locks: R.R. Brink Locking Systems
Security Penal Plumbing Fixtures: Metcraft
Security Sprinkler Equipment: Tyco
Security Fire Equipment: Aurora Fire pump system
Smoke Detection System: Notifier
Concrete: Egyptian Concrete
Precast Concrete Cells: Rotondo Weirich Enterprises Inc.
Exterior Finish: Sherwin Williams Paint; Petersen
Aluminum (Exterior Pac Clad)
Roofing: Meyer Material Company; Garbe Iron Works
Gypsum Wallboard: US Gypsum Board
Floor/Wall Tile: Tate; Northern Illinois Terrazzo & Tile Company
Raised Access Flooring: Northern Illinois Terrazzo & Tile Company
Security Ceiling System: Secureline; Metaline
Sally Port/Doors: Rytec
Plumbing: American Standard, plumbing fixtures (staff & general public); Chicago Faucet; Culligan, R.O./water softener/filtration system; PVI, water heaters; Anderson Pump & Process, domestic booster pump system; Wade, floor drains; Weil, sump pumps; Crest, precast 15,000 gallon grease interceptor; Elkay, stainless steel sinks and electric water coolers; Watts, Regulator (back flow prevention); Holby & Lawler, mixing valves; Taco & Grundfos. circulating pumps
HVAC: Mechanical Inc.
Security Cell Lighting: Dave Way