The design of correctional facilities is changing

How construction teams work together and collaborate is changing as facility layouts change, with the corrections facility designs for increased capacity.

1. Special management housing

A growing trend that has impacted the design world is the increased focus on housing designed specifically for people with mental illness and special medical requirements. A good example would be the creation of male and female separate mental watch units, in addition separate medical treatment rooms. The need for more negative pressure and padded cell spaces, along with in-cell surveillance cameras to monitor inmates can result from this.

One prison owner, who is currently building a new replacement, asked for one of 16 cell blocks to be devoted as a segregated area with some unique features. These include a dedicated entrance through sally ports, wire mesh partitions that surround the video viewing and increased security around the outdoor recreation. One of the 16 blocks was also designated as a mental unit, with those features. Based on this case, about 10% of the 16 cell blocks is now dedicated to management special needs. In addition, the client designed these units to allow each cell to accommodate either one or more occupants.

2. Increased capacity

Capacity requirements in corrections have increased. In order to meet the border security needs, more facilities need capacity.

The countrywide acceptance of the four-man-to-eight-man-cell approach to housing the medium-security populations is increasing compared with the traditional two-man-cell method. By using this hybrid method, the security level can be achieved by two-man prison cells with a reduction in the cost of construction.

3. New Buildings

It is not just the demand for beds that drives new construction. Instead, it’s the current economic state.

While new builds are often more costly than renovations initially, the improvements in safety and efficiency that they bring can make them worth it.

Floor plans can be more flexible in new construction, leading to better operational workflow and reduced costs.

In order to create new facilities, it is necessary to purchase new equipment. This means that the initial investment for new technologies – like higher-efficiency mechanical and electric equipment or enhanced security electronics – will be a tiny fraction of the price tag of the new equipment. The owners are willing to invest more initially for the benefit of better operating efficiency. This is different from the perception of a premium for similar upgrades to an existing facility where it includes the complete replacement of systems, and can be difficult to justify if the equipment in the current facility does the job, but at a lesser level of performance and efficiency.

When agencies consider ways to save on operating costs, as well as to protect natural resources and reduce their carbon footprints, they take into account the entire cost of ownership. They do not limit themselves to just construction expenses. The owners of new construction are now taking a closer look at more efficient layouts as well as security systems that can lower operating costs and utility fees for the lifetime of the building.

4. Specialty providers

There is an increasing demand for trade partners and specialty suppliers to help with the construction of corrections facilities.

Due to this increase in demand, the price of detention and security products is rising. Lead times for obtaining materials are also increasing.

How have contractors responded to this issue? For added lead-times, designers are adapting their design to budget and scheduling considerations as they adjust production capacity. This fluctuates depending on the current project and its completion. As an example, the capacity and current design of modular cells can affect the choice to use a cell-specific construction. This increase in demand can result in increased construction time, and therefore, higher costs. The increased demand and limited manufacturing capacity are also motivating clients early selection of contractors. They can then pre-plan, and buy long-lead time items early in order to avoid premiums and delays.

Corrections facility designs and demands for greater capacity have influenced not only owners’ approach to their needs, they also influence how construction teams collaborate and design in order to be more efficient. As the world around us changes, construction teams must adapt to these new demands.