County Corrections: By The Numbers

All images by Abstract Photography Inc. with the exception of reception, kitchen and video visitation, by Rodney White.

After more than seven years of assessment and planning, questions and arguments, progress and pauses, November’s phased transfer of inmates to the new $68 million Polk County Jail in Des Moines, Iowa, heralded the opening of the largest jail facility in the state.

For Polk County Sheriff Dennis W. Anderson, the new 325,000-square-foot complex is singularly defined by a dual raison d’etre — operational efficiency and functional effectiveness. The county’s vision rested on providing a safe, secure, efficient, cost-effective facility that incorporates the best practices from jails throughout the United States, Anderson says.

The new 1,500-bed jail was planned to eliminate overcrowding, improve safety and security, consolidate jail operations and increase efficiency. It will replace the combined 500-bed capacity of the two existing county jail facilities and end the practice of housing almost 50 percent of county inmates with other jurisdictions.

“We had a major bed shortage due to bad planning in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s,” Anderson says. “We used to say Iowa’s largest jail was in Missouri.”

The cost of housing inmates in other counties represents the largest jail operations expenditure, excluding personnel costs in Polk County. In 2005, the county allocated more than $4 million, not including associated transportation or medical expenses, of the total $21.5 million jail operations budget toward housing inmates outside Polk County.


Facility Name: Polk County Jail
Facility Type: County Jail
Total Project Cost: $68 million
Number of Beds: 1,500
Area: 325,000 square feet
Start Date: May 2006
Completion Date: March 2008
Owner/Operator: Polk County, Iowa
Owner Representative: Robert Raker
Project Manager: Michael Morman, AIA, LEED AP
Architect/Engineer: Durrant Group
General Contractor: The Weitz Company
Detention Equipment Contractor: Cornerstone Detention
Security Electronics Contractor: Southwestern Communications

Courtesy of Durrant Group

“Sending inmates to other counties was draining huge sums of money out of the community,” Anderson says. “The new jail will stop the financial bleeding.”

Annual operational costs for the jail, which were initially estimated at up to $40 million, are projected to be approximately $30 million, some of which will be offset by ending the costly practice of housing inmates outside the county.

County officials plan to house federal inmates under contract to recoup a portion of the annual operating costs of the new facility, which is master planned to accommodate future expansions to house up to 2,500 beds.

“This facility is going to meet the needs of this community well into the future,” Anderson says.

Engineering Value

The new jail was designed by Durrant Group and employs direct supervision inmate management through a predominantly dormitory-style housing configuration.

“In terms of construction and operational costs, the owner demanded a very tight full-service facility, so we had to get very aggressive in identifying and creating efficiencies throughout the project,” says Michael Lewis, AIA, managing principal of Durrant’s Des Moines office.

“This project manifests the connectivity of operations and architecture,” he says.

The 325,000-square-foot facility features thin-wall cell technology in housing units and combines conventional masonry and poured-in-place construction techniques.

The facility includes 16 housing units, each with 64-beds, arranged around a central administration, processing and support services area, and high-security special housing units that will accommodate inmates with behavioral issues. A 32-cell classification unit will house new inmates during the initial intake assessment and housing assignment process.

Because electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems are located in a common chase behind the cells, the housing units are designed to harvest natural daylight from adjacent exercise yards and 120-square-foot skylights.

The new jail also delivers on-site medical care through a dedicated unit, which provides routine medical and dental treatment and some specialized services, including dialysis. The 24-bed infirmary features 16 hospital-style rooms for post-operative recovery and medium-term care, four negative air pressure rooms for infection control and four suicide-prevention rooms.

Although not designed for LEED certification, environmentally sustainable design techniques are infused throughout the project. The project team incorporated energy-efficient building and energy systems to create additional efficiencies and cost savings.

“The building systems in this jail use the most efficient equipment to reduce operational costs by using the least amount of energy,” Anderson says.

Technology is leveraged throughout the $68 million jail to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs.

The building envelope and its interior components are constructed to 30 percent state building code standard increased energy- efficiency and sustainability.

“A lot of owners want a LEED building, but don’t want to pay for the plaque on the wall,” Anderson says.

Efficiency Through Technology

Located on a 40-acre site approximately 8 miles from the downtown justice and court facilities, the new jail complex incorporates judicial support space and leverages technology to improve inmate management, safety and security, operational efficiency and staffing costs.

Interior spaces throughout the facility are monitored via 256 cameras. A central control station manages access and movement throughout the facility, which has 1,800 doors, while a series of secondary control stations allow staff to monitor access and movement within specific housing areas.

“It’s the manpower that kills in jails,” Anderson says. “Two officers can run the master control room instead of four or five, so technology helps us to be much more efficient in our operations.” 

An information management system, which inmates access from each housing unit, integrates data streams from financial and commissary courts, as well as court data. The system also provides video conferencing and arraignment capabilities.

The facility’s public area includes video visitation for enhanced security and operational efficiency.

Graphic user interfaces are integrated into housing units to provide staff with instantaneous bed-specific inmate information to enhance safety, security and inmate management. Each inmate housing unit features video visitation stations, which reduce the staffing costs and security risks normally associated with inmate movement outside housing units.

The video visitation system also enhances facility security and reduces contraband flow by limiting visitor access to non-secure public areas of the complex. The perimeter and exterior areas are monitored with eight camera installations and visitors are screened through metal detectors in the public lobby.

“From entry to exit, this jail makes the most of electronics and technology with digital systems and computerized processes,” Anderson says. The project team included Alabama-based detention equipment contractor Cornerstone Detention Products and security electronics integrator Southwestern Communications, of Indiana.

Shifting Sands

The design team revised the original project plans with the addition of 3,500 square feet of space in the central portion of the complex. The additional space, which incorporates the public component of the video visitation system, also allowed the Sheriff’s office to relocate its booking operations to the new complex.

Project plans, which specified only conventional masonry construction methods, were also revised to overcome significant delays encountered during the approval process.
“The county budget team started second-guessing the operational costs and the government dragged its feet a little, but Weitz and Durrant came up with some innovations to speed up construction and get the project back on track,” Anderson says.

Energy- and resource-efficient HVAC, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems are designed to reduce the facility’s operating costs and environmental impact.

With winter closing in, the project team — Weitz Company, of Des Moines, provided construction services — combined conventional masonry and poured-in-place construction methods to speed construction, recoup lost time and reduce costs to deliver the facility on time and within budget.

“Constructability and cost and time savings became a major issue, but we approached it as a challenge and an opportunity to introduce industry innovations that could deliver some advantages for the project and the county,” Lewis says. “Integrating poured-in-place construction and thin-wall cell technology in the housing units, combined with block construction in other areas, allowed us to finish the project several months ahead of schedule.”

End Game

The facility’s quest for efficiency and effectiveness extends beyond design, construction and operations to inmate outcomes, programming and recidivism.


Security Systems: Southwestern Communications
Video Surveillance/Visitation Systems: Southwestern Communications
Intercom/Communications/Access/Control Systems: Southwestern Communications
Jail Management System: Southwestern Communications
Security Doors/Locks: Cornerstone Detention
Security Floor/Wall/Ceiling Systems: Trussbilt
Security Glazing/Windows/Skylights: Global Security Glazing
Correctional Furniture: Cornerstone Detention
Security/Perimeter Fencing: American Fencing
Roofing/Insulation: Firestone
Building Management System: Southwestern Communications
HVAC System: Control Installations of Iowa
Power/Plant Systems: Kohler Power Systems
Lighting Fixtures: Lighting Solutions
Plumbing Fixtures: Acorn
Fire Suppression/Smoke Detection Systems: Notifier
Food Service/Refrigeration/Laundry Equipment: Rapids Wholesale

Courtesy of Durrant Group

Secure substance-abuse treatment space was expanded from the existing 60 beds to 192 beds. Inmates can access mental health and substance abuse treatment, counseling and vocational, educational and personal development programming.

The sheriff’s office also launched a new mental health diversion program designed to identify offenders with mental health issues and provide them with access to appropriate treatment services. Two full-time, trained civilians staff the diversion program at the new jail.

“I spent the first 28 years of my career in law enforcement putting criminals in jail, but the last 8 years trying to keep them out,” Anderson says. “As a county jail, we should be teaching these people how to change for the better and helping them turn their lives around so that they don’t come back.”