Will correctional facilities of the future look more like universities than the hardened jails and prisons that we have come to know? That’s what a group of justice architects indicated in a roundtable discussion regarding the future of correctional design in a recent article published in Correctional News.

The group of architects included:

  • 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
  • Shawn Harding, NCARB, LEED AP, architect, senior associate, director of business development, HMN Architects Inc.

According to Conder, hardened facilities will always be a necessity, but an emphasis on rehabilitation and behavioral health programs – among other services – will become integral parts of correctional environments in the future.

“To aid that focus, the architectural designs will evolve to have the look and feel of a college campus, rather than a penal institution,” he said in the article. “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.”

Harding predicts that new laws will mandate the downgrading of some non-violent offenses, which will require that inmates who commit those crimes are located in different facilities and with access to more program spaces.

“This will allow facilities a more stable environment to work on the rehabilitation process and potential reduction of recidivism,” Harding said in the article.

And these architects are not alone. Currently, there is a new approach to humanizing corrections, in which facilities are becoming more normalized. These efforts are increasingly being implemented in the United States and already are established in progressive countries in Europe.

Humanizing corrections makes use of color, art and landscaping to create a more normalized environment to benefit both inmates and staff. It also makes use of correctional furniture that is more aesthetically pleasing, constructed of materials other than steel and is more residential in appearance. This humanistic approach to design is believed to:

  • Boost inmate and staff morale
  • Encourage social engagement
  • Promote dignity
  • Lower tension
  • Improve staff safety
  • Provide visual interest
  • Offer positive distractions
  • Calm the equilibrium
  • Reduce recidivism

One such facility that has incorporated humanizing corrections is the San Diego County Women’s Detention Facility (SDCWDF). The design, aesthetics and experience of SDCWDF falls in line with this emerging trend in corrections where facilities depart from the sterile and institutional feeling that has historically been found in these environments.

Norix Furniture provided much of the furnishings in this new facility.

“Our design team researched this premise and studied facilities in Europe that have found success through the approach of humanizing correctional facilities,” said Pam Maynard, Director of Interior Architecture for HMC Architects, a firm that was part of the team designing and building the facility. “This research confirms that the environments in which people live, learn, heal and are governed in, can affect us both psychologically and physiologically in both negative and positive ways depending on various environmental qualities.”

The team involved in the design and construction of the facility was tasked with creating an environment that was more humanized and conducive to rehabilitation. This included 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. This also included the design of outdoor environments with attractive landscaping and furniture that will help inmates feel connected to the outside world.

“The environmental qualities of the spaces at SDCWDF lend themselves to a more humanistic approach to detention,” Maynard said. “But it’s all about the people. We can talk about a chair or a light fixture or a wall color. But it all comes down to the people and the affect that this cohesive environment can have on the future of these women’s lives. And if it can contribute to a positive effect, that’s what I am most excited about.”

And as Goodale says of correctional architects in the Correctional News article, “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.”

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