On the Rise

In 1997, Wisconsin’s probation and parole violators wound up in county jails rather than state prison, where they belonged. That year, a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision allowed crowded county jails to refuse the state’s overflow offenders, forcing the state to create an alternative facility.

The Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility is that alternative, built to house parolees who don’t meet the conditions of their release. The probation and parole holding facility is one of the newest and smartest facility-types on the correctional landscape. Although the Federal Bureau of Prisons has built several general holding and transport centers, Wisconsin’s 1,048-bed detention center provides the first state model for correctional departments whose parole violators are clogging county jails.

“It has many aspects of a jail,” according to Warden John Husz, who says the majority of inmates are in for a short-term stay before being released or returned to a state prison. “Operationally, it looks a lot like a jail, but in reality, it is a state, medium-security institution,” he says.

Project Data

Owner: Wisconsin Department of Administration
Design-Builder: Hammes-Findorff
General Contractor: JH Findorff & Son Inc.
Architect & Security Design: Durrant Group Inc.
Detention Equipment Contractor: Norment
Structural Engineering (Parking Ramp): SRI Design
Structural Engineering (Secure Facility):
Graef Anhalt Schloemer & Associates Food Service Consultant: The Boelter Companies
Geotechnical Engineering: STS Consultants
Electrical Contractor: Magaw Electric

The $63 million facility, which accepted its first inmate in October 2001 and is due to reach capacity soon, includes 57 video-visitation booths, victim-sensitive hearing rooms for the revocation of probation and parole, and medical services on each floor. A community corrections component comes in the form of 210 beds dedicated to inmates incarcerated for drug and alcohol treatment.

Located kitty-corner from the Milwaukee County Jail, the facility is a quick ride between sallyports, accomplishing its mission to alleviate crowding in this county and others throughout the state. And, to make the downtown facility blend in with commercial buildings, it is wrapped in the envelope of an office tower.


The pedestrian-friendly base incorporates bullnose detailing with brick arches and pilasters.

The Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility is built to handle Wisconsin’s ongoing recidivistic traffic. The average length of stay is 60 days, but there will be many detainees staying only for the night. Inmates in the treatment program for drug and alcohol abuse, or on their way to begin new prison terms, can stay for several months.

Designed by Durrant Group Inc., the multi-purpose facility has an intake component, but is not a state classification center. As the firm’s project manager/architect, Ron Mastalski, explains, “It functions as intake for people off the street, but not for people who have been sentenced.” Hearings to revoke probation and parole occur here, while reception and classification in Wisconsin remain the responsibility of the Dodge Correctional Institution, 60 miles away in Waupun. For this reason, the secure vehicle sallyport accommodates inmate transport buses.

Probation and parole revocation hearings once held at an old workhouse ran the risk of re-traumatizing victims. At the new detention center, four revocation hearing rooms are a core component. Warden Husz involved victims and witnesses, the public defender’s office, and the district attorney’s office in the design of the flexible spaces. Offenders can be seen through glass and provide their testimony through an intercom. Officials also have the option to place the offender in a secure room to prevent his hearing testimony, or even keep victims and violators in different rooms while the hearing proceeds in a third.

Two fully redundant central control stations were required for this high-traffic, medium-security facility.

The hearing rooms minimize prisoner movement by keeping the revocation process within the facility. Limiting movement is a common goal in justice architecture, but is very critical in a nine-story detention center. “Whenever you have a vertical design, one of the limitations is the amount of time and effort expended on circulation, meaning waiting for and riding elevators,” says Mastalski.

The central health services unit on the third floor supports triage units, which are situated between pods on each floor. The Milwaukee County Jail contributes to the new state facility by supplying inmate labor to clean areas outside the pods and also contracts to deliver food into the re-therm area. Inmates contribute less to traffic because they never leave their secure 50-bed pods, except to attend their hearing or upon release.


Product Data

Security Systems: Accurate Controls Inc.
PLC: Modicon
CCTV: Pelco
UPS: Best Power
Touchscreens: Mitsubishi
Touchscreen Systems: Dell; Wunderware
Intercom: Harding Instruments
Security Glazing: Custom Glass Corp.
Security Doors: Truss Bilt
Security Screens: Kane Manufacturing
Security Locks: Southern Steel Co.
Detention Accessories: Creative Industries; Best Specialties
Architectural Precast Concrete: International Concrete Products Inc.(ICP)
Brick: Champion
Decorative Masonry: Trend Stone
Cast Stone: Arriscraft International Inc.
Decorative Fencing: Monumental Iron Works
Roofing: GenFlex Roofing Systems
Floor/Wall Tile: Daltile; VCT
Terrazzo Tile: Wausau Tile
Quartz Flooring: Dex-O-Tex
Carpet: Mannington
Raised Access Flooring: Tate Access Floors Inc.
Elevators: Schindler
Overhead Doors: Ideal Door Co.
Commercial Doors: LaForce Inc.; HDW; Schlage Lock Co.
Metal Stairs: Sharm Companies
Solid Surfacing: Arriscraft International Inc.
Aluminum Windows/Curtain Wall: Kawneer
Security Sealant: Sonneborn
Waterproofing: Pecora
Cell Lighting: Kenall
Exterior Wall Lights: Ruud
HID Lighting: Lithonia
Fire Detection: Cerberus Pyrotechnics
Electrical Distribution: Square-D
Penal Plumbing/Fixtures: Acorn
Bathroom Surfaces: Elkay; Crane
Flush Valves: Zurn
Walk-in Cooler/Freezers: Kolpak
Steamer/Ovens: Alto Schaam
Dishwasher: Hobart

The construction project received high marks from John Kilgust, the owner representative and the project manager for the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Division of Facilities Development, the agency responsible for erecting all state buildings and the owner of this project, the state’s first design-build project. Kilgust recommended the facility for the 2001 State Construction Excellence Award, which the building team received in February.

Kilgust was particularly impressed by how the design team coordinated their work and the absence of squabbles and cross-claims. John Cliffe, senior project manager for JH Findorff & Son Inc., says the project demanded no less than perfect harmony with subcontractors and suppliers. Because the building’s footprint occupied the entire site, there were no staging areas to store materials. “Everything was delivered on an as-needed basis,” says Cliffe. “Once it hit the site, it had to go straight into the building.” To turn daily deliveries into completed work, Cliffe called for two tower cranes-where one would be typical for a building of this size-allowing builders to feed materials to both sides of the nine-story structure at once.

The project’s successful execution can be traced back to the period before the team even won the design-build competition. Ron Mastalski believes the team won the contract in part because they performed a soil analysis prior to their submission. The bearing capacity of the soil and of a freeway retaining wall on the site told planners there was no need to drive casons or pilings into the ground. They came in with a lower bid by proposing the use of spread footings. “Some of those spread footings were huge, but that was better than having to drill down to bedrock,” Mastalski says.

Planning for the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility underwent numerous revisions along the way, some of which were implemented after construction began. Two additional housing floors, which were integrated into designs for future expansion, were made a part of the original structure. Durrant facilitated change orders and supplemental instructions by issuing a new package of construction documents. “[Builders] didn’t have to go back and reference different volumes and different sets of drawings for the base package and the expansion project,” said Mastalski. “It was all one clean set of documents and that kept anything from getting lost in the shuffle.”

The new documents also incorporated changes suggested by Warden Husz, who joined the project in 1999, after the initial plans were completed. “When I traveled around the country looking at high-rise correctional facilities, what I heard was, ‘You’ll never have enough storage and you’ll never have enough elevators.'” The warden got more storage and an additional elevator, bringing the total to five.

Husz then noted that parking was the dominant topic at the environmental impact hearings he attended. A three-level parking garage at the base of the facility accommodates 350 vehicles. “Touring those other high-rises, I know parking was a significant issue for those superintendents and wardens,” says Husz, who oversees a staff of almost 400. “We also have 300 probation and parole agents in the area, so I have allocated a number of slots for them as a way of building a good interagency partnership.” In addition to facility staff, the garage accommodates judges, social workers, and a range of government employees who frequent the busy facility.

Office Tower Exterior

With no staging areas, materials had to be installed on the day of delivery. The use of two tower cranes allowed builders to feed both sides of the building at once.

While the new detention center strikes a unique profile within Wisconsin’s correctional system, it blends perfectly with the Milwaukee skyline. A primary design challenge was making the facility look like an office tower, with large windows instead of the slits common in urban jails.

“Being adjacent to the freeway was one of the reasons why we had strong feelings about the aesthetics of the building. We knew it was going to be highly visible and we didn’t want it to be ugly,” says Mastalski. “If you’re not told beforehand, you don’t know this is a detention center.”

Without fencing, urban jails that appear to be an office building still require the exterior wall to serve as the secure perimeter. To accomplish the aesthetic feat, architects designed two walls. The rear cell walls around on the edge of the building are typical eight-inch-thick concrete block walls, fully grouted and reinforced to maximum-security standards. A second wall faces the exterior and gives the facility a public face. Daylight passes through the large exterior windows and into smaller interior windows that meet.

ACA standards

In designing the office-like exterior, Durrant worked with International Concrete Products to create architectural precast panels with varied textures and materials. Finish techniques were modified to employ both a light-colored acid-etch and an exposed aggregate, which is darker and more highly textured. “It was all done within the same matrix to help with constructability and cost,” says Mastalski.

The base of the building is similarly soft and pedestrian-friendly. Renaissance Stone was used for some of the base masonry in conjunction with a bullnose detail and brick arches and pilasters. What really distinguishes this application, however, is the way the hard/soft double-wall system is integrated with the facility’s mechanical chases. Typically, mechanical chases are placed in a building’s interstitial space, between floors. In Milwaukee, they are situated around the perimeter of the facility, between the hard and soft walls.

Having less space between floors further reduced costs because it took 30 feet off the structure’s height. “It’s a similar volume, but not as high, and therefore less expensive. The tower cranes didn’t have to be as tall and the interior skin of the building is decreased,” says Mastalski.

Everyone agreed that placing the mechanical chases on the edge of the facility would make for easier maintenance so personnel could enter from non-secure areas and reduce the need to pass tools through security checks. How the configuration would work was another question.

A full-size mock-up of a four-cell bay was created so owners could see for themselves how the mechanical chases would fit. “It proved to be an invaluable exercise,” says Kilgust. “There was a lot of cross-interference with plumbing, ductwork, and electrical wiring. There still are conflicts, but if we had not had the mock-up, it could have been a lot worse.”

Security Electronics

Five of the facility’s 57 video-visitation booths are remote-capable. As the Milwaukee area’s visitation hub, the facility allows families to visit with inmates confined within the state and at out-of-state facilities.

Nearly half of Wisconsin’s offenders come from Milwaukee County, so five of the facility’s 57 video-visitation links have remote capability to allow Milwaukee families to visit with inmates housed in other state prisons, as well as in prisons in Minnesota and Oklahoma; Wisconsin contracts with those states to house prisoners. Five booths might not seem like enough to handle all of Milwaukee’s distance-visitation needs, but Warden Husz reports that, with proper scheduling, the system has easily satisfied demand.

The rest of the visitation system is not as state-of-the-art, according to TJ Rogers of Accurate Controls Inc. Still, Rogers says, Milwaukee’s analogue configuration has an advantage over more advanced switching stations that employ a fewer number of visitor stations to serve visitation needs. The analogue configuration is setup to directly link a visitor booth with just one inmate terminal, requiring more visitor booths for a comparable amount of visitation traffic.

“It’s not as intelligent as some systems and you can’t direct any inmate station to any visitor booth, but you can carry on 50 inmate visits at a time,” says Rogers. More importantly, the analogue system met budgetary constraints.

A Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) is integrated with touchscreen systems controlling the time and duration of each visit. Always leaving room for improvement, Warden Husz learned that visitors believed their 45-minute visits ended too abruptly. He currently plans to add a countdown on the screen and to signal visitors with a tone on the handset to tell them the transmission is coming to a close.

Rogers adds that computer and software prices fell significantly over the three years between initial design and construction, and that the hard panels called for in the original plans could be abandoned for touchscreen systems. “Suddenly, for the same cost, they could get a better system, one that allowed greater continuity of control,” says Rogers. “Officers can switch from post to post and still see the same thing at all the operator stations.”

All nine floors have a PLC system that handles lighting and door control. Each door has three fuses, one for each door function: lock/unlock, lock status, and the door-position switch. “This [door control] gives them trouble-shooting capability not provided by a series connection for one secure input,” says Rogers. “In cooperation with the touchscreen, management functions, and logging capabilities, operators are able to diagnose more door-adjustment issues remotely.”

Other security electronics features at the new detention facility include a digital audio system by Harding Instruments that is networked for intercoms, overhead paging, and the PBX interface, allowing operators to adjust sound levels by station. Elevators are equipped with a duress button that triggers the car to move directly to a pre-established floor. Here again, security provisions accommodate the high traffic of a jail rather than the more static population of a state prison.

“With probation and parole violators, you don’t know the characteristics of the people coming in off the street,” says Mastalski. “In a state prison, inmates have a history and have been classified. At this facility, you don’t know if they’re drunk, high, or have mental problems or other health issues when they first come in.”


The probation and parole holding facility has taken root in Wisconsin. Durrant recently won the contract to design four more regional facilities for Wisconsin parolees who violate release conditions-much smaller operations that will each house approximately 150 offenders.

Warden Husz says his personnel roster is almost complete. Three years ago, he was touring high-rise jails in other cities, but now the warden of the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility is hosting visiting corrections officials and giving tours of his own.