DEC Roundtable: Delivering Security Solutions in a Changing Industry

As corrections budgets continue to dwindle and fewer new construction projects are happening, detention equipment contractors (DECs) are still focused on delivering quality security solutions at a reasonable rate. They also face the same issues as architects and construction mangers by trying to find the balance between creating a normative environment that still provides the security required of a corrections facility.

In this roundtable discussion, Brian Mikiten, owner for Secure Control Systems; Don Halloran, president for Southern Folger Detention Equipment Company; and Buddy Johns, president and CEO for Argyle Security Inc., discuss how changes in the corrections industry affect DECs and the challenges DECs face to stay in the game.

Q: What is the biggest change you’ve experienced in the corrections industry since you got your start?

Mikiten: The consolidation of smaller companies into larger, top-heavy corporations is the most disturbing issue we have seen. This forces them to hire inexperienced employees who simply don’t know the industry.

Halloran: The biggest change in the corrections industry I have seen since 2002 is the reduction of new construction in corrections. This slow down can be attributed to the following trends: the reduction of inmate sentencing, legalization of marijuana by some states and reducing the use of administrative segregation.

Johns: In the last 10 years being part of the corrections industry, I have observed that how we incarcerate in the U.S. is under constant review and change. The movement toward dealing with offender issues such as mental health, drug and alcohol abuse and reintroduction to society is finally being aggressively pursued. As always, the costs of these programs are still a struggle, but the realization that covering these services are a must has been realized.

Q: How are those changes in the industry affecting DECs?

Mikiten: The larger the company size, the more risks they have to take on bid day just to feed the machine they have created. This drives margins down and the need for change orders up. No one wins in that scenario. County and state budgets are affected by this trend as well when they are forced to take low-bid contracts instead of evaluating all the associated risks. I’ve never seen the number of companies going out of business as I have in the last five years — mostly due to job-based losses associated with taking jobs at prices that make no sense.

Halloran: These changes are causing consolidation within the detention industry. The overall market is shrinking, and this, in time, has resulted in reduced profits and increased financial stress on many companies in the detention business.

Johns: The DEC industry is working on smaller projects, retrofits and renovations more now than ever. The new level of offender programming and services requires a different physical structure. A normalized environment is necessary without sacrificing safety and security. This is giving our industry very unique challenges.

Q: What are the biggest challenges that DECs face in today’s correctional industry?

Mikiten: Cost control. Jobs tend to drain on-site resources due to poor documents, indecision on the part of the entire construction team and the lack of attention to the Critical Path Method, management techniques in construction that allow you to track the effect of one trade’s schedule against another. As an example, if the trade laying the foundation is late, he or she will affect the walls, tile, carpet and everything else so he or she is critical path. The building signs don’t affect anything but the opening of the building so they are not critical path. It is used to manage complex relationships that may not become evident by just experience or looking at a job.

Halloran: The biggest challenge facing DECs is procuring enough work. The work is now spread over new construction, retrofits and service. The key to success in dealing with the wide range of types of work is to have an experienced project management team, field superintendents and technicians that can handle the diversity for the work we are facing.

Johns: [The biggest challenges are figuring out] how we give the industry this normalized environment that is necessary or how we deliver the needed facility retrofits for a feasible amount that allows for these necessary improvement projects to get funded. The hardened doors, windows and locks are not in any way normative, and the products are costly. There is a balance, which the corrections industry is slowly evolving towards feasibility.

For the extended version of this DEC Roundtable, read the November/December issue of Correctional News.