The New Breed of Facility

California is well known as the place where trends start, whether that is in technology, entertainment or other industries. Part of the dynamic that drives innovation and trend setting in California is the diversity and sheer number of people that live and work in one of the world’s largest economies.

Like other industries, there is a trend being born in California today that will likely have repercussions throughout the public safety landscape for years to come. In that state, there are some very serious and diverse issues that are coming to a rapid intersection and are demanding a new viewpoint on what detention, corrections, rehabilitation and care mean within our system.

Traditionally, it has been fairly simple to maintain a distinction between what a detention center, jail or prison is, and what a health care facility or program treatment facility might be. Based on the diversity and severity of the issues facing California, a new facility, more a new methodology, is now emerging that will be required to address these disparate but highly related priorities.

As has been documented for many years, the state’s corrections agency has been struggling with some very acute issues. First, there is an overcrowding problem that has many causes, one where the state has within its custody far more inmates than its rated capacity would advise. Issues with sentencing, probation and parole have driven the size and cost of the system to unprecedented levels. One of the negative results of that situation is an increasing strain on ever dwindling resources to staff these facilities and manage these inmates. Along with that resource strain, the ability to provide access to mental health and health care has been compromised, resulting in long standing lawsuits and federal court action. The state’s ever-challenging budget issues have made the necessary solution of building and staffing more facilities increasingly difficult.

One of the recent outcomes of this situation is that the federal courts have determined that the state simply needs to house far fewer inmates, and very soon. One solution is a massive review of sentencing, parole and probation policies in the state, but that process is a decade’s long one that involves public policy debate and really examining the role and responsibilities of government in public safety. Unfortunately, the state and its counties and citizens find themselves in a situation where they do not have time for those policies to get worked out and need to solve the immediate issues.

Many stakeholders and talented and committed people have been working diligently to find solutions to this crisis situation and to determine innovative short range solutions that will provide long-term benefits for the system at the state, county and local levels. One well-documented outcome has been the establishment of the California health care oriented receivership to reform issues with health care, mental health, dental and accessibility. New California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) facilities are being constructed in Stockton that address these issues, with plans for other facilities down the road.

Another CDCR initiative is to recognize that many of the inmates in the system are less violent and will be returning to society soon. An emphasis on community corrections and re-entry would positively influence outcomes and return inmates back to society with reduced recidivism.
That’s where the counties come in. In an innovative move, known now as AB109, the state is providing funds for new detention facilities throughout the state, funds that will provide beds and services for these state inmates, back in the communities where they came from, near family and other support. Furthermore, these funds will provide much needed capital to assist counties in meeting their own mounting bed needs. While all counties are already experiencing the impact of AB109, many are now implementing the state funding, from large counties with urban populations such as Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside, to medium-sized counties like Solano, Tulare and Stanislaus.

These new facilities still provide the services typical of a county jail, including intake, processing, a variety of security level beds, mostly pre-sentenced, and program services. However, the impact of state inmates and their different issues are forcing law enforcement, service providers, designers, programmers and the construction industry to work together in more innovative ways.

One primary issue is security. While today’s jails already house high security inmates with unpredictable behavior and acute mental health issues, the inmates who have spent time in the state prison system for many years bring many new tricks into the county environment, so there must be careful planning to appropriately separate and integrate these inmates. The influx of new inmates alone impacts food service, visitation and staff-related facilities. As one might imagine, with new swelling numbers of inmates and their very different classification requirements, designers and planners must be even more diligent than before in holding down the facility costs and staffing requirements of these complex facilities.

Special needs populations are also having a large impact. With a rapid increase in the women’s population, emphasis is being placed on gender-specific design and management policies, as exhibited by San Diego’s new Las Colinas facility, San Mateo’s new women’s unit and the upcoming women’s village at the Pitchess Detention campus in Los Angeles County. The new, creative facilities that are being built in these counties will likely set the new standard for women’s detention throughout this industry for years to come.

The medical and mental health issues that have plagued the CDCR inmates will now travel with them to the county facilities. Therefore, a new emphasis is being placed on providing constitutionally compliant access to care in a cost efficient way, which typically means in-house services. Stanislaus County is now planning for a 72-bed state of the art treatment unit in its new detention center and is an example of a “thinking out of the box” solution.

Some of these new state inmates are serving longer sentences and will be in these facilities for many years beyond what traditional jails are used to. Therefore, access to expanded outdoor space and vocational programs, as well as treatment, education and other vital services, needs to be incorporated. In the case of Riverside, combine security, special needs, health care and length of stay issues with a critical need for beds in a high-profile urban site, and you start to get the picture of the complexity undertaken here, and often on very large scale projects.

Returning to the opening point of this article about California trend setting, all of these dynamics have led to a new type of facility emerging. It’s a facility that makes the partnership between the state and counties closer, and really addresses the long-standing need for a continuum of care to reduce recidivism, control sky rocketing costs and create a more safe and satisfying community for us all to live in. And, whether one resides in Florida, Illinois, Texas or any number of other states, the issues that California is tackling right now don’t really seem that different from the ones being dealt with everywhere. So, get ready for the newest wave from California; it’s probably coming to a community near you, sooner or later.

Senior Vice President Jeff Goodale leads HOK’s global justice practice and serves on the firm’s Board of Directors. HOK’s justice practice includes all facilities that contribute to the justice system — from law enforcement and emergency operations centers, to courthouses, detention and corrections facilities.