Background Check: Darrel Stelling, of DLR Group

Editor’s Note: Background Check, a new recurring feature, provides a snapshot of leading professionals in the justice and corrections industry. E-mail your profile suggestions to


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For Darrell Stelling, DLR Group’s criminal justice market leader for California, planning correctional facilities was the logical next step in the early development of his career. The efficiencies that are required for 24/7 operations at prisons and jails correspond well with his thought process for facility design.

“Corrections projects are very functional in nature, and my mind works that way,” Stelling says. “There is a lot of need for efficiency in day-to-day operations. Waste of square footage is not in my vocabulary.”

Stelling joined DLR at the firm’s Omaha, Neb., headquarters 12 years ago. Having worked on K-12 and higher education facilities for a few years, he made the jump to the corrections market after spending time with colleagues who were already involved with facility planning in that sector.

“I decided it would be a good move to go over there and try something new,” he says. “I kind of fell in love with the project type.”

It is a love that has been fruitful for the architect, who grew up in a city of 4,000 residents before heading to University of Nebraska to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in architecture. During the last seven years, Stelling was involved with projects totally $750 million, 2.7 million gross square feet, and 16,500 beds — an average of more than 2,200 beds a year. Several of the projects were for Corrections Corporation of America.

“It’s been a short career in corrections,” Stelling says. “However, I’ve gotten quite a bit of experience in those years. I have to attribute that to the owners who I have worked for. They were all really fast-paced projects; as soon as you’re turning one over, you are starting on the next one.”

Stelling now finds himself in new territory at the firm’s Sacramento, Calif., office where he relocated after taking the California criminal justice leader position about a year ago.

In addition to looking for new work in the potentially lucrative California market, Stelling is in a new role away from the drafting and planning table, working upfront with clients and building new relationships.

“I’m getting out into public more and building relationships. That is something that is kind of new for me. I was more in the technical side of things before with project management and project architecture,” he says.

The ever-tenuous political climate of California corrections is also new for Stelling, who never had to consider issues such as federal receivership.

“I never really wrapped myself up in politics before, but I’ve got to stay on top of it now,” he says. “You never know what is going to affect your project. It affects my day-to-day work now.”

The relocation also has personal benefits. Stelling’s new home in the foothills outside of Sacramento is central to a variety of recreational activities. Long-distance ski trips to the mountains are no longer necessary.

“I’m kind of an outdoorsy person,” he says. “So this is right up my alley. There is not a lot of mountain biking in Nebraska.”

As Stelling continues his push through the learning curve of his new position, he says he is exactly where he wants to be in his career.

“It’s a good fit,” Stelling says. “If I’m not learning something, I get bored. Now I’m in a role where it’s going to be a long time before I stop learning.”

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