In a recent article, Architectural Digest suggested that design might be the most prominent problem facing prisons in the United States since most facilities are made of hard materials and feature overly neutral colors that have a negative impact on the inmates that are housed and staff that work there.

Currently, the article states, there is a movement among architects and those involved in the design of correctional facilities to humanize these spaces to combat the many incarceration-related challenges, including America’s world-high 60 percent recidivism rate.

One such complex that the article points to is Las Colinas Women’s Detention and Reentry Facility in San Diego County, “Perhaps the finest example of compassionate American prison design,” according to the article.

compassionate prison design
Las Colinas Women’s Detention and Reentry Facility in San Diego County

What’s makes the new Los Colinas special is the use of multiple soothing colors, furniture with less institutional design, incorporation of increased natural daylight and large-scale photographs of natural outdoor settings throughout the facility. Additionally, it features outdoor environments with furniture that help inmates feel connected to the outside world.

Norix® Furniture was instrumental in providing furniture products that added to the rehabilitating design of the facility. Chairs in the environment are lush green in color, some featuring durable yet aesthetically pleasing upholstery. Tables and nightstands are topped with laminates with a wood-like appearance. Light, stackable chairs aided the facility in creating spaces that look like classrooms.

“In the past, it appeared that the furniture was its own thing in correctional facilities. It had its own form. Its own color. We would design an environment and the furniture was just something we had to make do with,” Pam Maynard, Principal/Director of Interior Architecture at HMC Architects, told Norix® just before the facility opened in 2014.

HMC was part of the team designing and building the facility. The approach to Los Colinas tossed aside this old way of thinking. Of course, the facility still needed products that had rounded corners and that could be ballasted to add weight to limit movement by inmates. It also was imperative that the furniture had no ligature points.

But just as important, the facility needed to incorporate furniture that was aesthetically pleasing and colors that worked cohesively with the facility design and assisted in the normalization of the overall environment.

“When they saw our products they instantly said ‘That’s it. That is what we are looking for,’” Sandy Heitman, former Norix® Furniture Project Manager, said at the time. “I think they knew Norix® for its durability and the fact that we are forward thinking. But in this case, it was all about timing. Just as we were giving our furniture a more normalized look without giving up durability, the team was looking to create a facility that incorporated that same philosophy.”

A $221 million project that was constructed on a 45-acre site in Santee, CA, the facility replaced the Las Colinas Detention Facility which served the county’s adult women detention facility since 1979.

Read our Los Colinas Case Study to learn more about the projects and view the videos below to hear interviews with those involved in the facility’s construction.