Virginia Task Force Publishes Juvenile Hall Design Recommendations

RICHMOND, Va. — An interim report authored by Virginia’s Juvenile Correctional Center Task Force based in Richmond calls for smaller facilities designed with an increased emphasis on rehabilitation. The report specifically addresses the design and construction of a new juvenile correctional center in Chesapeake.

While the report focuses on the design and construction of a new juvenile correctional center, it also emphasizes decreasing the number of juvenile beds and improving care. “Community intervention is the preferred option whenever possible, including the provision of diversion, intensive support services, community supervision and placement of committed youth in local community-based alternatives,” the report states.

The report also highlights the fact that, even as the juvenile population declines, youth still held in correctional centers likely will have a complex array of challenges including substantial exposure to trauma, behavioral health issues, educational challenges and serious offense histories. “In order to increase their chances of successful rehabilitation and reduce the likelihood of reoffending upon release, it is imperative that new or renovated facilities are built to maintain safety and security of staff, residents, and the surrounding community and incorporate design features that are most likely to promote rigorous and sustained treatment and rehabilitation,” the report authors add.

Presentations and research reviewed by task force members showed that the state’s existing juvenile facilities should be between two and 10 times smaller, prompting the authors to recommend that any new or renovated facilities should be significantly smaller in size. The task force further recommended that new or renovated centers be located as close as possible to the home communities of the juveniles they hold, reflecting research that shows maintaining and strengthening family ties during commitment is associated with safety, educational advancement and successful rehabilitation after release. “Family proximity to the facility is the best predictor of such engagement and continued contact,” the report adds.

Thus far, the task force’s preliminary recommendations include developing housing units and sleeping rooms that contain between eight and 12 living units spread across separate buildings to reinforce and enable a small group treatment approach. The reported added that the housing areas should be designed to be secure, but “minimally institutional,” specifically noting concrete bed slabs and similar features should not be included. Instead, the report emphasized flexible and comfortable common, multipurpose spaces as well as private, dedicated treatment and family visitation space. Outdoor space should also be sufficient for recreation and adjacent to and accessible from juvenile living units, according to the report. In place of linear designs, double bunks or large, shared sleeping rooms the authors outline single rooms for a large proportion of bed capacity, with consideration for small dormitories for certain segments of the direct care population.

All future education spaces within the state’s juvenile facilities should also be equipped with instructional technology to address academic and career readiness needs, including credit recovery, enrichment needs, and access to distance learning, according to the report. Technology infrastructure and digital space will further be required to manage online instructional and career readiness software, curriculum, assessments, performance-based projects and data collection. These spaces should also be able to accommodate project-based learning activities, distance learning labs and celebratory events.

In terms of facility characteristics, the report stresses the development of facilities that are “as small as possible, given funding limitations, economies of scale, and the need for safety and operational efficiencies.”

Trauma-response design, furnishings and architectural features were also emphasized, such as open interior spaces with views to the outside, moveable furnishings, natural and adjustable lighting, easy access to outdoor spaces from housing and program areas, and the use of light colors and sound absorbing materials.

Juvenile spaces should also be delineated from staff areas, which should provide ample space for staff members to take breaks, store personal belongings, and have access to computers, while still offering open sight lines and close proximity to housing units to shared spaces.

The task force’s final report will be released in July 2017, which will outline whether or not the construction or renovation of a second juvenile correctional facility is required.