Design Roundtable: The Future of Correctional Design

By Jessie Fetterling

The corrections industry currently faces a paradigm shift that will have a major effect on the future of correctional design, which was discussed in a previous question for this Design Roundtable. While today’s focus is on mental-health programming, sustainable design and evolving technologies, Correctional News spoke with five justice design architects to get a better understanding of what’s next for correctional design.

Five justice architects weigh on what they believe to be the future of correctional design.

Five justice architects weigh on what they believe to be the future of correctional design.Mike Conder, principal at Arrington Watkins Architects; Roger Lichtman, AIA, senior vice president, justice lead, AECOM; Mark Van Allen, AIA, LEED AP, vice president, director of justice architecture, Rosser International Inc.; Jeff Goodale, senior vice president and director of justice, HOK; and Shawn Harding, NCARB, LEED AP, architect, senior associate, director of business development, HMN Architects Inc., weighed in on what they believe to be the future of correctional design.

Q: What is the future for correctional design?

Conder: There will always be a need for hardened facilities, but I feel the future of many correctional facilities will be a continued emphasis on rehabilitation, education and behavioral health programs to help inmates become productive members of society. To aid that focus, the architectural designs will evolve to have the look and feel of a college campus, rather than a penal institution. The duty of the architect will be to design a facility that is safe and secure, and also one that will provide spaces for self-improvement for each inmate.

Lichtman: One of the issues that we have yet to discuss is that of project delivery. At this point in time, no discussion on this subject matter could be complete without it. When I came into the industry, all projects were developed conventionally utilizing, design-bid-build. Now, there is a variety of delivery systems, including construction manager at-risk, design-build, design-assist and public-private partnerships. Of course, any delivery can be combined with any building though some may present differing challenges such as a design-build on a renovation. However, we are either amidst or just prior to a paradigm shift.

As in the case of the rise of DUI arrests when a new type of facility was developed that didn’t require the same security as the jail, I suspect that there is currently a need to address the 35 percent of the inmates in many systems with severe mental disorders. Our current thinking of 64-bed pods with one officer and little or no medical staff is the equivalent of trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Assuming that sheriff’s departments will continue to be the sole repository for these inmates, we will need to design more effectively and more efficiently perhaps starting from scratch such that the facility that houses these inmates looks more like a campus-type, secure residential group living facility and a lot less like jails as we know them.

Van Allen: When I started in the industry, corrections design was about who could build the most “boxes” for the money with the best inmate to staff ratio. I think the future of corrections design is very positive for those individuals who can provide the unique solutions that today’s problems require.

Goodale: It’s integration; it’s understanding the relationship of all components of the law enforcement and corrections community and integrating those needs into new facility solutions we haven’t even thought of yet. There is a relationship between whether someone is arrested or not, do they need treatment, should they be booked, how is the evidence being handled, do they have access to justice, what is effective long-term treatment for them, and finally, how do they get returned to society as better people? Our mission is no less important than the defense of human rights for victims, arrestees and the community at large in addition to the efficient application of justice that reflects the best values of our society.

Harding: My assumption is, as new laws are passed, we will see downgrading of certain non-violent offenses and those persons will require to be housed differently with more access to program space(s) in the post-adjudicated environment. This will allow facilities a more stable environment to work on the rehabilitation process and potential reduction of recidivism. I don’t see this affecting the pre-adjudicated process as much, and I don’t think the rural areas I serve will have the ability to make those kinds of changes.

Stay tuned for the January/February 2017 issue of Correctional News to read the full version of this Design Roundtable discussion, which will be available soon.