Correctional Design Experts Discuss Industry Changes

As January begins another year, Correctional News spoke with four architects who weighed in on the latest trends and challenges in correctional design. Jeff Goodale, director of global justice practice, HOK; Joe Mrak, AIA, NCARB, CSI, senior vice president of RQAW; Vernon Almon, principal, LEED AP BD+C, KMD Architects; and Carla Weinheimer, AIA, DBIA, Justice+Civic project leader at DLR Group, each speak about the biggest changes they’ve seen in the industry since they started designing correctional facilities decades ago.

Q: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry since you’ve been involved?

Goodale: I think the biggest change has been the shift from the proliferation of building medium- and maximum-security prisons in remote locations to taking a much more careful look at the root issues involved with crime and punishment. We’re seeing much more integration between the state and county and local government units and looking at the whole system, from arrest to re-entry. We’re more engaged with mental health and medical professionals, psychiatrists and behavioral health experts to determine more effective facilities. And I think there is a constant pressure on our clients to reduce costs, be more sustainable and achieve better results, so those pressures are forcing some very creative solutions and approaches to these issues that we haven’t seen before. I think the community is more open than ever to looking at new ways to do things.

Mrak: When I started in the early1980s, correctional design hadn’t really become a specialty yet. Now, when a client goes and hires someone, they’re looking for someone that has a lot of experience in the field. That’s evolved over time.

Almon: Technology is the giant one, as well as public attitude. When I started, [the public attitude] was really hard on crime and focused on putting criminals in jail and throwing away the key. Now, it’s starting to change. The jurisdictions understand that it needs to be more treatment focused because a lot of the mental health issues are more medical issues. The third one, which is gigantic, is the sustainability movement.

Weinheimer: The biggest change I have seen is the degree to which the conversation about restorative justice has become more prevalent across the country. There seems to be an increased focus on local community programs and alternatives to detention for low-level offenders. I’m seeing more interest in transitional and re-entry programs to prepare inmates for a successful return to their community. These interests lead to designs for correctional facilities that have more types of program spaces and a variety of housing types for re-entry and transitional programs.

Stay tuned for the January/February issue of Correctional News magazine for the complete roundtable discussion between all four architects.