Designing a safe and comprehensive correctional institution might appear easy from the outside. Designing holding facilities my link, adult corrections centers, jails and prisons is a unique challenge for both designers and clients in the public sectors.
Wold Architects and Engineers, one of a select few firms recommended by the Minnesota Department of Corrections. The firm has a long history of successfully designing complex, technically demanding facilities and implementing processes in Minnesota as well in Illinois, Colorado, Tennessee and across the entire area.
Our advice to public sector clients looking to build or renovate secure prisons is to include the guidelines from your state correctional department in your design. This will ensure your facility meets your client's needs. In our industry, we see this mistake all too often. This is done without the collaboration of the client, the design company and the Department of Corrections of the states or any other licensing agency. This lack collaboration can lead to many pitfalls such as increased operating costs, a reduction of bed count or licensing.
We want to work with companies that are familiar with the construction and designing standards for correctional institutions in each state. The familiarity of the standards and years of experience makes it easy to plan and design correctional facilities that meet those standards. The licensing authority can establish a relationship of trust with the design agency to ease the approval for design standard variances. The design team that has experience and knowledge in these standards is better able to focus their efforts on innovative ideas, which can reduce operating costs and make the facility safer and easier for maintenance.
Experience is crucial when designing correctional facility designs
What are the potential risks in designing a corrections facility without being aware of the standards and regulations enforced by your state? Our analysis revealed that companies who didn't follow or understand the design standards had problems with design and construction that prevented correctional centers from operating as the Sheriff's Office anticipated. In some jails, the inmates are not able to be accommodated because of the small space. Other jails had poor sightlines or didn't meet design standards. Some have even increased staffing due to a design that is not productive. Design problems have led to the downgrading of some facilities to a lesser level of licensure.
There are facilities that do not conform to the square footage or size standard. Dimensions of the cells, dayrooms and recreational areas, as well as services and programs. Documentation of specific criteria is required. Design must adhere to these documented criteria. In the event that the design does not meet these criteria, the facility may be unable use the space according to plan, leading to a reduction in capacity or empty cell. It is important that the cell areas are designed to allow for clear visibility of all the areas where prisoners will gather from an officer’s security station or central monitoring position. Poorly designed cell blocks can increase the number of officers or cause security concerns. It is essential that the design allows both inmates as well as officers to move around safely and efficiently. Officers also need to be able reach all the cells in a set time period for wellness checks.
It is also important to design a housing unit that will reduce the number of times prisoners have to leave. The design of housing units can vary from simple to complex. It can include meeting rooms accessible directly from the housing unit that can be used as a place for religious, educational or counselling programs. Addition of nutrition stations in the units and the provision of janitorial assistance are two simple solutions often overlooked. Some firms may not be familiar enough with these highly-technical buildings to recognize the importance of these simple yet crucial design elements. This could lead to jails having to hire extra staff.
Buildings may not reach the licensing level they are aiming for, if they do not meet correctional facility standards or do not apply for a project variance. As an example, a building could be downgraded from a holding unit that could hold inmates for 365 to 90 days. The Sheriff's Office can rent beds from another facility to reduce the length of time that a facility can hold an inmate. If the local facility is inefficient, it may be necessary to transport inmates from distant jails to courthouses within the county of the crime. The cost of running a prison can be increased by this, such as bed rentals, vehicles, and staffing.