Products and Prisons


Ruben Caro has been with KMD (Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz) Architects since 1998. He is a senior associate and production manager and also serves as the firm’s security specialist. With this issue’s editorial focus on detention equipment and hardware, we asked Mr. Caro to talk with us about industry trends and the issues he encounters on a regular basis.

Mr. Caro also speaks frankly about how the tragedies of September 11, 2001 may effect the security and corrections industries.

Joe De Patta: Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your education?

Ruben Caro: I got involved in the industry out of curiosity. I was always fascinated by the way buildings went up. If I came across a construction site, I would stop and look at it. Eventually I got into a two-year course in construction technology at New York City Community College. That got me into the profession. When I finished there I thought I’d go a step further, so I studied architecture. That’s when I transferred to the New York Institute of Technology.

JD: Are you a native of New York?

RC: Yes I am. I was born and raised here and I’ll never leave. I love New York. I started off working with Con Edison here in New York, which is our local electrical utility. They actually paid for 75 percent of my schooling. It was a good relationship.

JD: Tell use about your job as a justice technologist. How did you make that choice?

RC: Peter Krasnow, justice director for KMD, called me. I was with another firm and he asked me if I was interested in making a move. KMD made me a good offer and here I am.

At the time, [early 1998] we were developing the New York office and I helped the company put together the standards-basically all the specifications-and I concentrated on hardware. I made a whole outline, delineating the different types of locks, their functions, and where to use them. I put all the sets together and, using the different manufacturers, I would list them as equals; let’s say, if we were going to use an 80 series lock someplace, I’d note the manufacturers and put each number down. That way, when the project goes out to bid there is no guesswork involved. You know which locks have to be used.

JD: How did you come up with that technique?

RC: I found that, while I was working at another firm, every time we’d send out a project, there was always a substitution. Every time a substitution came in-even if the lock was acceptable-I had to go back and look up the equal to that lock to make sure it was OK to be used as specified. So I thought, to save some time, I’d include them all in the spec. That way there is no guesswork. It has worked out well.

JD: As a specialist on justice equipment and hardware, are there any tips you can give our readers? What should they look for when purchasing and evaluating products?

RC: You have to establish good communication with the owners. When specifying doors, for example, you need to know exactly what the opening is going to be used for. Determine the degree of security that you need on the opening. Then you can work back and pick out the gauge of the door, the gauge of the frame, and then the type of lock that you are going to be using.

Also, you need to find out what type of abuse the door’s going to get; if the opening is for a cell or a gym. If it’s for a gym, there’s going to be an abuse factor so you have to consider the type of lock and hinges that you’re going to put on. I’ve gone through a lot of institutions and I usually find that the gymnasium door is pretty beat up. If I use a continuous heavy-duty hinge there, I find that it’s a lot better than putting on three or four heavy duty hinges.

JD: What types of challenges have you encountered on your projects? How did you overcome them?

RC: The challenges are mostly the give-and-take between the client, builders, and designers. Educating the client and letting them know exactly what’s out there also is important. One of the issues is whether to go with regular manual locks or try to convince them to go with an electric lock, which can help their staffing. That sometimes is a fairly big issue.

JD: How does maintenance figure into detention equipment and hardware selection?

RC: As far as maintenance, we usually put spare parts in our specifications. Clients usually also get a full maintenance package, depending on how big the facility is. We give them parts or even full locks, then they are able to take the lock apart and use the parts. I find that often works the best.

When we sit down with clients, their hardware and maintenance guys are often present and they provide input and often have good ideas. It’s not strictly our point of view, it’s give and take with the owner, and if the maintenance people offer suggestions that have worked for them in the past, it is worthwhile listening to them.

JD: Do you feel, following the events of September 11th, that we will see more advances in security products and new technologies, which will eventually find their way into correctional facilities?

RC: I think so. Because of the type of incident that happened here, it was obviously a disaster of the highest magnitude, and that’s going to cause the industry to wake up and say, “Well, maybe a 14-gauge door is not thick enough, we’re going to need a heavier gauge door.” That is going to lead the industry to do more testing on door and lock security. What may happen is, these people are going to do tests that will become standard throughout the industry. I think corrections will decide that’s a good idea. If something works for a door that has been tested for another industry and has withstood a tremendous impact, perhaps it should be used in a place where we are going to have to contain 100 inmates, like a gymnasium. Testing equipment for use in other environments will help develop better security techniques and equipment, and that information will trickle into all security-oriented industries.

JD: Do you notice any trends in detention equipment and hardware budgets? Is more or less money now available?

RC: I find that, right now funding is on the upswing for equipment and hardware. Owners and managers are increasing budgets for hardware in the initial stages of construction, knowing that later they will realize savings. During negotiations we try to educate the owners about these potential savings.

What is happening is, with more money spent up front on the security and electronics aspect, that is money that can be saved on staffing. The owner needs to weigh one against the other. For example, in an area with 32 manual, dead bolt locks, in an emergency situation you are going to need a couple correctional officers to go in and get these guys out. If you are employing electric hardware, all you have to do is press the emergency release button and it will open all doors. That will save on staffing.

JD: What is being specified these days? What items would you consider “standard” equipment and hardware?

RC: Basic, standard stuff is your 4-1/2″ hinges, number 5 hinges, wire pulls and recess pulls. I also find that as far as manual locks, the 80 series, the deadbolt lock, is preferred by most institutions, as opposed to the snap lock.

In juvenile facilities and jails we find that the narrow jamb electric lock, for the two-inch jamb, works well. For medium- to maximum-security facilities, we find that the 120 series, the eight-inch lock column works well. For maximum-security and supermax, you go with the 12-inch.

JD: What kinds of equipment do you see as up-and-coming? Can you identify any trends?

RC: The touch screen is really starting to take off. Old control panels are being replaced with the touch screen, which has a dual purpose. You can have controls for the locks on the screen and you can pull out a little corner on the screen and have a camera in there. In the old method, you’d have a monitor in one area and a board with toggle switches in front of you and the user would have to constantly be looking back and forth and flipping switches. Now it’s all right in front of the employee.

JD: What makes a manager resistant to new methods and technology?

RC: They often ask about power failures. I remind them that Fire, Life, and Safety Codes has a section with which they must conform and that provides for an uninterrupted power supply. If there is a power shortage, within nine seconds the generator has to kick on and provide backup for all the emergency doors, locks, and lights, and that includes all of the electrically-operated equipment. We have to make sure that managers have a sense of comfort. They have to know that if there is a power loss their facility will not be closed off.

JD: How do you evaluate equipment and hardware needs for different facilities, such as sexual predator units, supermax facilities, mental health units, and juvenile facilities?

RC: For all facilities, whether it is a minimum-, medium-, or maximum-security facility, we have a sit-down with the owners. We assess the degree of security, present our plans to the clients, and show them the equipment. Most of the time they agree with our historical evaluation. They often have comments and we take those into consideration. Generally, we find that with the minimum-security units, we use fewer hinges because they don’t get quite the abuse they do in a place with a higher security level.

In some cases, as a person who supplies hardware, it is up to me to come back into the office and talk to manufacturers and suppliers and show them what I’ve found and ask them what we could do to make something better.

JD: Have equipment and hardware changed much over the last 10 years or so? What period saw the most change?

RC: The big change has been with security electronics more than anything else has. That’s been a huge change. I would say that the big changes started in the mid-eighties. Mainly because of the breakthroughs in security electronics, detection systems, perimeter security, and the development of the computer and all of the peripherals. If you look at perimeter security and the way it is interfaced with a computer, you have virtually an entire institution at your fingertips.

JD: Where do you see things in 20 years or so?

RC: Once again, I think you can take that back to what has just happened here in New York. A lot more testing will be conducted and more new products will be coming out dealing with the terrorism issue. Out of that we will have equipment that is above and beyond what we have now and the products will work a lot better.

The prison industry is having some of the same problems as the airports: how do you detect weapons? Equipment developed for airport security will find its way into the correctional industry.

JD: How do you find and learn about new detention equipment and hardware? What is your preference?

RC: That’s an easy question. I keep in good contact with all the vendors. Learning about equipment can be fattening. What they do is have “lunchbox seminars” and I try to have them as often as possible. They come in and bring locks and hardware and conduct a training demonstration in the office-and they come armed with a lot of food. That’s where they present their new technology and it keeps the staff informed. A lot of people who work on these jobs are drawing details, and while they see it on paper, they never have the opportunity to see and use the equipment they’re specifying. For instance, when a vendor sets up a locking system with a control panel, our people can hear how loud this lock is when it snaps closed. They get a feeling for how strong the lock really is.

I always prefer on-site demonstrations by company representatives. You can ask all the questions you want. You also can ask how they tested the equipment. I find that the individuals doing the presentations are usually very knowledgeable and are very good about getting back to me right away with any information.

JD: Some architects say they don’t usually attend tradeshows to see new products. Is there a disconnect between architects and suppliers/manufacturers?

RC: I think it’s important to go to the shows. I don’t go to all of them, because the technology doesn’t change that often in this industry. But I like to go and keep in touch. I also call up the suppliers every three or four months and ask them what’s new, what’s happening, and to get updates. I don’t like working with old catalogues. I like to change my catalogues once a year.

JD: So, you maintain contacts at the major companies?

RC: At every single one of them. I’ve established a really good relationship with all of them; it’s almost like calling a friend now. I like to keep abreast of technology and work with up-to-date literature. I find, unfortunately, that a lot of architectural offices have outdated literature and that’s a big mistake. You can specify something that doesn’t exist anymore, or has changed. Down the line that will come back to haunt you.

JD: How can these relationships be improved?

RC: A lot of architects don’t like to be bothered with reps when they call. I find that to be a big problem. I think they should be receptive. These are the people that know the product. They have the information. As an architect, if you are writing the specification, you must know exactly what you’re writing. You can’t rely on old technology and specs that you used 10 or 15 years ago. The reps have a job to do, which is to sell, but their other job is to make sure that everybody in the industry is kept aware of changes, new equipment, and how to use it.

Some guys, when they do a spec, know the generics of a product, but they’re not familiar enough with it. You have to be as knowledgeable as possible. In order to do that, you need input from the representatives of the companies.

JD: What encourages you about the state of the industry?

RC: I like the way it’s going. I like the new advancements; there are so many more possibilities. I think the security advances that will be made as a result of what happened here in New York City will help many industries. There will be a lot of new products coming out. As far as locking systems, there is an attitude that as long as they have worked in the past, why change? That’s going to shift.

JD: How are you addressing issues toward ADA-compliant facilities and the need to accommodate geriatric inmates?

RC: When the whole ADA issue arose, a lot of advancements were made. We needed levers on doors, but inmates kept breaking them off. We had to come up with some alternatives to prevent that. That’s when we placed a plate and bolt behind a door to stop them from putting torque on it and ripping it off. That happened fairly fast. When we are put in a position where we have to come up with new technology because of changes, we seem to jump right on it and do it. We should evaluate systems at least on a yearly basis and examine new technology as a regular part of our duties.

JD: Do you have any final comments?

RC: I enjoy what I’m doing. I feel society is benefiting from this. There are bad people out there and we are keeping society safe. I believe in education for inmates, but what we are doing is called “corrections.” We take someone who is in a situation and doesn’t know what to do with his life, or has done harm to other people, and send him to prison for correction. I hope there’s a point where he can go back out into society and be useful, be beneficial. Obviously that won’t work for everybody. There are inmates who are going to be bad for the rest of their lives. If I can help design an atmosphere that is conducive to corrections, I feel that I’ve helped society, and that’s what I want to do.

Also, we have really good young architects who want to learn as much as they can. That’s one of the reasons why I like having these lunchtime seminars with the architects and representatives from the construction industry. It is really educational; I enjoy that process very much. It’s important to teach people who are new to the field as much as I can. That makes my job a lot easier, too.