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A comprehensive and secure correctional building may look simple on the surface. Designers and clients of the public sectors who must detain individuals accused of committing crimes or those sentenced to prison face unique challenges when designing holding facilities, locking-up facilities jails annexes. Wold Architects and Engineers are one of a handful of firms who have been recommended by Minnesota Department of Corrections. These facilities can be complex and technical, and require a process-driven design.

A piece of advice that we give to our public clients building or renovating a secure facility for correctional purposes is to consider the correctional agency in your state and its guidelines when designing your project to meet their standards. A mistake we've seen far too many times in this industry is the lack of collaboration between clients, design firms and licensing agencies or the Department of Corrections of your state. If this kind of collaboration is not done, it can result in increased operating costs as well as lowered bed counts or reduced licensure.

The importance of working with firms familiar with each state’s design and building standards is paramount to our company. It becomes second nature after years of practice and familiarity to ensure facilities are designed and planned to meet these standards. If you have a trusted relationship with your licensing agency, it can sometimes make the process of requesting a deviation from the standard design easier. Design teams with extensive experience in these construction and design guidelines can focus more on innovation that will lower the cost of operations, improve safety for staff and decrease recidivism.

Expertise is important when it comes to designing Correctional Facilities

What is the risk of not knowing your state’s standards or rules when you design a corrections building? We've seen that projects designed by firms without a clear understanding of or adherence to the design standard have had issues with construction and design that has prevented these facilities from functioning as intended by Sheriff's officials. This includes jails that cannot house inmates within spaces too small or with poor sightlines. Other issues may include jails not meeting design standards, increased staffing cost, and insufficient design. Design issues have led to some facilities being downgraded in terms of their license level.

Unacceptable facilities in terms of size and space are a common issue. We have seen facilities that do not meet the required size and square footage standards. Documented criteria are required. It is important that these design criteria are met, otherwise the spaces can't be used in the intended way by the correctional facility. That could mean fewer cells or a reduction of capacity. From an officer’s station for security or from a central location of monitoring, the cells must be designed in a way that allows clear views to reach all gathering areas. If the block is not properly designed, it could cause additional costs in staffing and pose safety risks for officers. The cell layout needs to be designed for safe and efficient inmate and staff movement.

Another aspect that is often neglected in designing jails is the creation of solutions which minimize the necessity for prisoners to leave the area where they are housed. It can start with adding meeting rooms to housing units for counseling, education, and religious programmes. It can also be complicated, such as designing modular housing that can grow or shrink in response to changes in jail population. It is easy to overlook simple ideas like adding food stations and cleaning services within housing units so that the inmates are not forced out of their unit. It is possible that a company less adept at designing highly complex and technical facilities will overlook simple design aspects. As a result, correctional facilities are forced to employ more employees, which can prove to be very expensive in the long run.

In the event that a building does not reach its desired level of licensing, it could be because they did not comply with standards set by correctional institutions or sought out a specific project variance. The facility could go from a "365-day" holding facility down to a "90-day" holding facility, as an example. If the Sheriff's department wants to decrease the number of days a correctional institution can house an inmate they will need to rent more beds at other facilities. This could also mean that inmates are transported to courts near where crimes have been committed from far-flung facilities, if you still operate an inefficient facility in your county. These factors will increase your operational costs in terms of bed rental and vehicle rentals as well as staff.