Hardware and Equipment

I actually take a lot of pride in the fact that I don’t have a college degree, says Michael Retford, justice principal at DMJM Design. I have two years of technical college; I graduated from Utah Technical College in 1974. Two years of college and nine years of experience and I sat for my professional exams and became licensed. I don’t have a traditional background, which has affected my practice; I’m a more technically-focused architect. I know and understand good design, but I don’t approach projects the way a lot of architects do. I think that’s partly what led me into justice architecture.

JD: When it comes to correctional equipment, what is considered ‘advanced technology?’

MR: Right now, one of the bigger advances is the fully integrated system. They all talk to each other and are readable on the same system. That includes fire/life safety, doors and intercoms, paging, building automation, systems for smoke purge, and other systems like that. There have also been major advances in hand-held technology.

JD: What equipment or hardware is necessary to shore up the nation’s correctional facilities?

MR: First I have to compliment the industry itself. I never cease to be amazed at how facilities manage to make do with what they have. The human element overcomes a lot of shortcomings within the system.

The most important things are inmate tracking and integrated systems. We need to keep track of these folks to minimize risk to the public. After that I’d say that, with the tragedy of 9/11, we now have to look at our facilities in terms of threats from the outside as well as threats from the inside.

JD: How big a problem does aging equipment pose for the correctional industry? What’s the solution?

MR: They certainly need to upgrade equipment and the solution, unfortunately, is money. Money and time.

JD: Maintenance is a huge factor when specifying equipment. Are all of the equipment and technology advances making them more difficult and expensive to maintain and repair?

MR: I believe not. The big expense is when you try to upgrade from an old system to a new system. Once the new systems are in place it is easier. One of the advantages of the new technology, like the computer, is getting to be more plug-and-play. A PLC card goes bad, you pull it out and put in a new one, drop the program back into it and you’re up and running. From a serviceability standpoint, it’s getting easier with computer-driven control systems.

JD: You said you’ve been working closely with DJMJ’s Technology Systems Solution Group to make justice facilities as safe as possiblehow have you put those ideas into practice?

MR: The main element there is the participation of David Campbell. He leads the justice portion of Systems Solution Group. We work very closely with Dave Campbell and he keeps very much abreast on developments. What helps us is that Dave is also plugged into the rest of Systems Solutions and their technology group and is working with other clients besides the justice practice. We then get cross-fertilization from the private sector and the public sector.

JD: You’re a voting member of the ASTM F33 Detention Equipment Committee. Can you explain your responsibilities with that group?

MR: Actually I sit on several sub-committees; Hollow Metal, Glazing, Fasteners, and Tool Resistant Steel Standards. F33 literally writes the ASTM standards. Our responsibilities are to assist in writing and editing, review and comment, and vote to approve or not approve the standards.

The F33 committee has representatives from manufacturers, users, and the design community, which I think is its strength but it can also cause difficulties. We all have different purposes. Manufacturers want to have ASTM approval. They want to have ASTM standards and testing requirements that they can pass. Designers want secure, reliable systems and the users want to be able to afford the product.

One of the best examples is that over the last two years there has been turmoil in Tool Resistant Steel. That’s because of the advent of the rod saw. It used to be that the standard for testing tool resistant steel was so many cycles with a hacksaw blade. Steel that could resist thousands of cycles with a hacksaw blade can be cut through in minutes with a rod saw. Rod saws are small, can be concealed, and are highly affective. Tool resistant steel is now being developed that can withstand rod saws for given periods of time. That was quite contentious because the technology for that type of steel is not widely available. If we write an ASTM standard that says steel has to resist rod saws, manufacturers ask, ‘Where do I get the steel?’ We finally passed a standard. Facility users are very anxious because the rod saw is a little piece of cable and some guy can hide it in his shoe. It’s easier to conceal than a hacksaw blade. The new steel will cost more, and that is also something you have to look at. We also added a guideline relative to where it is appropriate to use the new steel.

JD: What can the industry expect to see coming down the line in terms of new equipment and hardware?

MR: The one that jumps out is the hand held, PDA-based units. They are going beyond door control and intercom response. We’re using them in the Pima County, Arizona, facility to read the smart chip in inmates’ ID bands to track medications, commissary, whether he’s been to visitation, etcetera. What’s also coming is GPS tracking systems for man-down, inmate, and staff tracking.

JD: In terms of technology and equipment, in what direction is the correctional industry headed?

MR: To a measured degree it’s becoming more high tech, like the PDA. The correctional industry is very conservative when adapting new equipment. And rightly so, because we’re dealing with people’s lives. They want to see 20 other places that are using the new equipment flawlessly and they’ll consider it.

JD: Technology isn’t the only sector where correctional equipment and hardware is changing. What other items ‘precast cells, security glazing, etcetera ‘are worth specifying or at least watching with an eye toward future use?

MR: We are seeing advancements in steel cells in terms of fire ratings and acoustics. There are advancements in non-lethal electric fencing. We’ll see more of that.

JD: How are trends in terms of correctional security affecting other industries? Are they influencing the way other buildings are designed or equipped?

MR: Absolutely. Homeland security and the tragedy of 9/11 have demonstrated to me that many of the technologies that are being developed for corrections are crossing over into the private sector.

JD: With increasingly tight budgets, how can the correctional industry make their necessary improvements, upgrades, or new equipment purchases?

MR: Very difficult. The answer to that is, and probably always will be, money and time.

JD: Product selection can be a pretty subjective thing; what makes you specify one over another? In other words, how do you stay on top of which ones to select on which ones to avoid?

MR: We have, within DMJM, a Justice Technical Committee. That committee is made up of experienced justice architects, practitioners and engineers from across the country. We all look for and evaluate new products, but before we accept them into our master specification the Justice Technical Committee as a whole reviews and comments on them. We do a lot of research on new products as they come out and we bounce ideas off of each other. Beyond that we actively attend all the conferences, ACA, AJA, and we walk the floors, look at products, and talk to vendors.

JD: Do you have any final comments or anything to add?

MR: From a personal standpoint, this has always been, for me, an extremely challenging and rewarding career. A lot of people in my profession ask me why I want to do justice architecture. To me there is no more challenging design project as a correctional or detention institution. The people you wind up working with, the corrections people, sheriffs, and deputies, are amazing individuals and I always enjoy working with them. It’s been a fun ride.