By Roxanne Squires
SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. — Santa Barbara’s new Northern Branch Jail (NBJ) is taking shape as it will soon reach completion on an innovative correctional design that aims to reduce the risk of violence and enhance public safety.
After decades of trying to get a new facility in the North County, a region which is the source of more than 57 percent of the county jail population, the new $100 million facility will exist as the largest public works project in the history of Santa Barbara County.
The NBJ covers approximately 136,000 square feet, sitting on 50 acres of former farmland, and will house both male and female inmates, in a combination of medium security, high security and isolation cells.
It holds 376 beds in total — 312 medium security beds of double cells or dorm configurations, 32 maximum security beds in single or double cells, and 32 special use beds for medical and mental health housing.
The number of beds will help address immediate bed needs, reduce overcrowding, and improve access to medical and mental health services for the current and future population.
Overall, the design of the facility intends to be expandable to meet the projected future needs of the county justice system.
For the interior, the designers applied modern elements to the new facility including sunlit rooms with high ceilings, carpeted floors and vibrantly colored walls. The design also grants direct supervision—with five out of eight pods allowing officers to be in constant interaction with inmates throughout their shift. The direct supervision triangular pods will have cells along the unit walls and a common area as the epicenter.
The facility aims to provide a softer environment with cells using glass doors in lieu of bars, and a partially carpeted common area to improve acoustics. Inmates will be able to spend most of their day in the common area, where they will have access to showers and an outdoor recreation area.
Furthermore, small programs spaces will be provided in all housing units to limit inmate movement, while larger program spaces will also be provided along the central corridor.
The NBJ will also include a centralized classroom space and a computer laboratory. Ultimately, NBJ hopes to exemplify the meaning of “new-generation” correctional facilities. Construction on the project began in October 2016 and is on schedule for completion in June 2019.
The project team included Liebert & Associates as the project expert, Rosser International, Inc. as the architect/engineer and Kitchell as construction manager.