Rural Justice By Design

Anchored by the offices of the Sheriff’s Department and boasting two courtrooms and 318 detention beds, the 89,000-square-foot White County Law Enforcement Center combines discrete judicial, enforcement and detention components in an all-in-one justice center tailored to the rural Arkansas community it serves.

“The existing jail, which was situated several blocks from the courthouse, was in pretty bad shape and so outdated that it violated state and local codes,” says Jim Langford, AIA, a principal at Spirit Architecture, of Memphis, Tenn., the project architect.

The challenge in designing the replacement law enforcement center was to accommodate multiple components with distinct operational flows in a manner compatible with the rural setting, while ensuring standards of security, serving functional needs of safety and efficiency, and facilitating demands for accessibility.

“We started from these conceptual points of multiple components, separate flows and necessary points of transaction and decided how to make them happen in the most effective and efficient way possible given the constraints of the site,” Langford says.

Prior to construction of the justice center, several metal-framed buildings were all that remained of the manufacturing plant that had occupied the 17-acre mixed-use industrial site about two miles outside the town center of Searcy, Ark.

Budget-conscious county officials were eager not to waste the site’s inherent value, such as the existing utility feeds and structural framing, and handed the project team the additional challenge of incorporating existing infrastructure into the base design and building footprint.

“With our experience on projects like this, we knew we could save the county some money; it just took some extra planning and work,” Langford says.

Differentiation Through Design

The justice center radiates outward from the central spine of an intersecting circulation axis that connects the facility’s detention component to the judicial and enforcement areas. The design provides the required service-delivery adjacencies among the three distinct components.

“The flow of people is very simple in this facility, with three main corridors linking the different areas and only two public access points,” says White County Sheriff Ricky Shourd. “Everything else is shut off, with only one way in and one way out.”

The initial justice center design incorporated 69 camera placements throughout the jail and sheriff’s office, and around the facility’s exterior and parking lots. Access and movement is monitored and controlled from the center’s master control room.

“We still rely on bailiffs in the two courtrooms, but are looking at installing cameras in the courts to enhance security,” Shourd says. Metal detectors at the public entrance provide the primary layer of security for the facility’s court component.

Although the building design separates the majority of staff circulation from public areas, the project team incorporated scalloped design elements that penetrate the facility’s central spine at various points. The configuration allows users appropriate access to the center’s multiple components while maintaining the integrity of restricted areas.

“You want to control movement and manage interaction so people don’t get into areas where they ought not to be,” Langford says. “The public and justice flows are separate for the most part, meeting only at the necessary points of transaction.”

With delineation of separate functions a primary consideration, the project team designed the facility with three main entry points — two public, one restricted — that complement the center’s functional layout and circulation flows.

Each entry point is dedicated to a specific functional area of the center, while delineated functionality and service delivery is reinforced through the use of dissimilar materials, colors and finishes to aid orientation and direct circulation flows.

“As people come on site, they are directed to enter the justice center at the optimum point,” says Langford.

In addition, county officials were mindful the justice center project represented an opportunity to help rejuvenate the surrounding semi-industrial neighborhood. The design team combined considerations of functionality and aesthetics as it created the project’s public face and delineated its multiple components.

Adorned with a brushed-aluminum canopy and dominated by a glass curtain wall, entry to the Sheriff’s Department is highlighted by a series of curved terracing walls that lead the visitor from the parking area to the recessed entry point. The court component is defined through the use of a curvilinear glazed-block wall that projects outward from the building’s façade and extends into the public parking area.

Distinctly mirrored color palettes — redbrick with blue-gray accent, for the court component, blue-gray with redbrick accent for the Sheriff’s Department — further differentiate the separate law enforcement center components, areas of service delivery and entry points.

In stark contrast to the judicial and enforcement components and their public functions, the design team defined and differentiated the detention component, which is located away from the center’s public areas on the backside of the facility, with a somber gray façade of precast concrete panels and an exposed aggregate finish.

From Flow to Function

Designed to satisfy the disparate imperatives of security, efficiency and accessibility encompassed by the center’s three components, the configuration of the justice center permits future expansion of each of the individual facility components. The complex also delivers clear benefits in facilitating the transportation of inmates for court appearances.

“The design of the justice center works well because we never have to leave the facility; we’re always in a secure setting,” Shourd says.

The project team also used the building design to segregate different classifications of inmate to restrict the flow of contraband and enhance the ease of inmate supervision.

“Most of the contraband enters a justice facility through weekend inmates and visitors,” Langford says. “Separating them from the rest of the jail population has reduced contraband levels to a minimum.”

Trustees, and overnight, weekend and minimum-security inmates are housed in four dormitory-style housing units in the main facility, while an octagonal detention-unit annex houses medium- and high-security inmates under direct supervision.

“In the old jail we didn’t have a good facility to house people coming in to serve overnight or weekend commitments and we had problems with family members and weekenders smuggling drugs and other stuff,” Shourd says.

Operational efficiency, safety and security are further enhanced through the justice center’s video visitation technology, which allows inmates to communicate with visitors, consult attorneys and make court appearances without leaving the detention unit.

“Inmates and visitors never come into contact with each other, which also helps to prevent contraband from entering the inmate population,” Shourd says.

< Segregating the facility’s different components and inmate populations also makes it easier and safer for trustees to go about their work with minimal supervision.

“Although authorized staff can access any of the different areas, someone gaining access to the courts, for instance, can’t cross over to the detention side without the proper security-access codes,” Shourd says.

The center’s 230-bed high-security octagonal unit, known to staff as the Wheel, features two lock-down cells and one psychiatric-style rubber-room cell for inmates with behavioral or mental health problems. All three specialized cells are fitted with observation windows located in the ceiling to provide staff with an unobstructed view.

“We’ve had four or five incidents of inmates in the Wheel breaking the sprinkler heads in their cells and flooding the unit,” Shourd says.

However, intermittent sprinkler-system headaches notwithstanding, the Sheriff’s Department is more than satisfied, both in design and operation, with its new home.

“The modern design and technology elements that were incorporated into the facility allow us to be more efficient,” Shourd says.

The master control room allows movement and access inside the facility to be monitored and controlled with less manpower, while the center’s computerized booking and data systems have reduced the time officers need to spend on paperwork and processing. A computer-controlled HVAC system designed to enhance energy efficiency and reduce costs was also incorporated into the justice facility.

“It saves a lot of dollars on utilities and people can’t mess with it either,” Shourd says.

Learning by Doing

From the design team’s perspective, the success of the White County Law Enforcement Center development relates directly to an understanding of rural justice projects.

During the past 10 years, Spirit Architecture has worked on more than 30 justice projects as part of the SouthBuild group, a full-service, design-build joint venture. In addition to Spirit Architecture, the SouthBuild team is composed of Smith-Doyle Contractors Inc., of Memphis, Tenn.; Henson Construction Services, of Jackson, Tenn.; and Memphis-based engineering firm Smith Seckman Reid Inc.

SouthBuild’s projects range from the 13,500-square-foot, 48-bed jail in Perry, Okla., to the 146,000-square-foot, 716-bed facility in Fayetteville, Ark.

“We only work on rural, county-level justice projects,” Langford says. “That’s our niche, so we can bring a whole lot of experience that doesn’t exist out there.”

The SouthBuild collaborative employs the true-build process at the front end of projects, where all the principals — design, engineering, construction — get together for a four-day design-build session to work out all the nuts and bolts of the project.

While adhering to project estimates and timelines is always an imperative, it is even more essential for rural justice projects, Langford says. The true-build process is designed to allow the principals to go back to the client with a more precise design and cost proposal.

“We want our projects to be on the leading edge, not the bleeding edge, for these rural communities,” Langford says.

The SouthBuild team conducts its own assessments and studies to generate the optimum design components, technology elements and facility layouts for each project. In addition, SouthBuild principals often help clients assess soft costs to estimate the total capital cost and final sticker price for the project.

“We can help the client with all the things they need to get the facility up and running, and that kind of knowledge is very valuable in these rural justice projects,” Langford says.

The SouthBuild collaborative’s accumulated experience and expertise gained over the years have taught Langford and his team that rural justice projects are a unique animal, requiring a markedly different approach.

“In rural settings, you have got to make it as easy as possible to repair and maintain systems and equipment, and to source replacement parts quickly so that facilities can remain fully operational,” says Mark Hammer, project manager for Spirit Architecture.

With the use of technology in these kinds of rural justice projects still a relatively new proposition, the challenge for the SouthBuild collaborative is to extract the fundamentals of large-scale modern design and state-of-the-art technology and utilize only those aspects and elements that are compatible with, and beneficial to, the rural setting.

“The big guys go down to Arkansas with all this expensive complex technology and modern design components, which work great in large urban projects like you’d find in Milwaukee, but that’s not what will work best for a small, rural justice project,” Langford says.


Facility Name: White County Law Enforcement Center
Type: County Correctional Facility
Construction Budget: $13 million
Number of Beds: 318
Area: 88,700 square feet
Construction Start Date: Spring 2005
Completion Date: Fall 2006

Owner/Operator: White County , Arkansas
Project Manager: Don Abernathy, Smith Doyle Contractors Inc.
Architect: SpiritArchitecture Group LLC
Construction Manager: Smith Doyle Contractors Inc.
General Contractor: Multi-Prime Contract
Detention Equipment Contractor: Cornerstone Detention Products
Security System Consultant: R & N Systems Design
Food Service Consultant: Michael Fischer and Associates

Courtesy of Katcher Vaughn & Bailey Public Relations


Food Service: Supreme Fixture Company Inc.
Chopper Pumps: JWC Environmental
Steam Kettles: Vulcan
Walk-In Coolers/Freezers: Kolpak
Refrigeration: Kolpak
Ovens: Vulcan
Custom Stainless Equipment: Supreme Fixture Company
Correctional Furniture: Peterson Detention Inc. Detention Accessories: Peterson Detention Inc.
Security Systems: South Western Communications Inc.
CCTV: Pelco
UPS: Powerware
Touchscreen system: Automation Displays Inc.
Televisitation System: VuGate Corp
Intercom: Rauland/Atlas Soundolier
Security Glazing: Saint-Gobain Sully
Security Windows: Habersham Metal Product Co. Security Cell Doors: Habersham Metal Product Co.
Security Fencing: United Fence Co. Inc.
Security Locks: Southern Steel Inc.
Security Penal Plumbing: Willoughby Industries
Security Sprinkler Equipment: Arkansas Automatic Sprinklers
Smoke Detection System: Advanced Cabling Systems/Fire Control Instruments
Concrete: Lofland Company
Precast Concrete wall panels: Coreslab Structures
Exterior Finish: Omega Panel Products
Roofing: Firestone
Gypsum Wallboard: USG
Floor/Wall Tile: Daltile
Security Ceiling System: Environmental Interiors
Sally Port/Doors: Cornell Iron Works Inc.
Plumbing: Action Inc.
HVAC: Action Inc.
Security Cell Lighting: Cooper Lighting

Courtesy of Smith Seckman Reid Inc.