Doors and windows, both in interior and exterior applications, are a major consideration toward effective correctional facility design. Doors and windows are more than just portals for entry and visibility; they are also conduits of light, vision, heat and sound. This presents both a design opportunity and a challenge. How do you use doors and windows in prisons to ensure optimal health, safety, security and efficiencies?
Privacy & Tranquility
Data collected as part of the 2007 Administration of Prison Social Climate Survey of the 114 U.S. federal prisons shows that violence significantly declines as quality of physical conditions improves, specifically with regard to reduced noise and increased privacy.
As a result, there is a growing desire in correctional facilities to better manage privacy with easily adjustable vision control options in inmate spaces, which can significantly decrease stress. Privacy solutions need to be flexible enough to permit discreet observation by staff, while still affording inmates a sense of personal privacy and security. In inmate clinics, patients particularly need quiet and privacy to improve healing conditions, and clinical staff needs adjustable vision control to constantly monitor them.
It is also clear that excessive noise can induce acute stress. Good design approaches reduce noise by employing sound-absorbing doors and windows. Therefore, doors and windows must also include sound wave barriers to significantly dampen noise.
Incorporate Daylight Design
The American Bar Association’s Standards for Criminal Justice: Treatment of Prisoners Third Edition 2011 recommends in Standard 23-3.1 that the physical plant and environmental conditions of a correctional facility should “not deprive prisoners or staff of natural light,” and Standard 23-3.3 recommends that “correctional authorities should provide each prisoner, at a minimum, with…a source of natural light.”
The key takeaway from this is that natural lighting can help create more amenable and humane environments for inmates. There is a direct correlation between people’s moods and sunlight. Typically, people in properly sunlit rooms will be less stressed, less depressed and more relaxed. But with natural lighting comes glare, which can become a nuisance, and solar radiation, which can generate uncomfortable heat build-up.
There are two types of lighting or glare that can penetrate an inmate’s space: exterior daylight and interior light from adjacent spaces. To avoid uncomfortable glare or solar heat gain, external glazing needs to have adjustable daylight filters, which allow for flexible control over sunlight. For interior doors and windows, it is essential to be able to control light transmission from hallways or other adjacent rooms into inmate spaces. Bright lights tend to amplify stress.
Options for Vision & Daylight Control
There are a number of vision and daylight control options for doors and windows available on the market. Curtains, blinds, Venetian blinds and smart glass are all options that don’t meet the needs of a corrections environment. Integrated louvers, or louvers between glass, are currently the only solution that competently addresses virtually all design requirements.
Integrated louvers are hermetically sealed and offer completely adjustable vision control. They can be angled to provide discreet observation by correctional staff, while preventing inmates from feeling observed and exposed. They typically feature double glazing with a 2-inch airspace that has a Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating on par with drywall and concrete block walls. In exterior applications, the integrated louvers offer complete daylight and glare control and optimal thermal efficiencies. They come with cord-free operation and anti-ligature knobs for optimal safety. High-impact glazing protects against bullets, shattering, fire and violent force. The louvers are typically made with hollow-chambered aluminum to provide maximum strength and maintain the strictly parallel alignment of the blades. In fully closed position, they ensure an additional safety barrier against violent impact.
By their very nature, correctional facilities limit design options for doors and windows. They also demand a number of critical considerations that can make the difference between life and death. By including integrated louvers into door and window solutions, correctional facilities can make highly stressful environments calmer, safer and more secure. By balancing visibility and privacy and the benefits of natural light against the discomfort of glare, integrated louvers make design sense for correctional facilities.
Jean-François Couturier is the president and CEO of Unicel Architectural located in Montreal, Quebec. Under his leadership, Unicel has built a global brand for high-end building envelope solutions that help control sunlight, heat, sound and visibility.