DIRECT SUPERVISION AND NORMATIVE DESIGN

The switch to a pod orientation in jails and prisons is not just aesthetic. Increasingly, correctional facilities are moving away from the remote supervision of inmates from separated control rooms or guard towers. This remote-supervision model was inspired, in part, by English theorist Jeremy Bentham and his panopticon (Greek for “all-seeing”). On Bentham's design, guards could observe inmates from a tower or cell without direct interaction. A modified panoptic design was used at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, which opened in 1997.

Today, however, a direct-supervision model, which places the officer in housing cells with the detainees, is becoming more popular. Direct-supervision facilities look to create a normative environment, in which the surroundings uphold healthy social norms. The model springs from a belief that the design impacts the inmate's frame of mind and that, by offering as “normal” an interior as possible, you can mitigate violence and aid rehabilitation.

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    Jonathan Hillyer/HOK

    Gwinnett County Detention Center Renovation and Expansion, Lawrenceville, Ga. HOK expanded the center's program space, enlarging the lobby and adding new magistrate courtrooms and a preadmission area. An adjoining tower with 1,440-bed capacity is scheduled to finish in 2009.

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    DMJM Hamp;N

    Pima County Justice Facility Expansion, Tucson, Ariz. DMJM H&N designed low-to-medium-custody pods; a lockdown facility; an infirmary; and a mental health unit, for a total of 510 new beds. Architects also added a new public entry and video visitation area.

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    Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center, Vandalia, Mo. This facility houses all security and custody levels of women inmates in the state of Missouri. HOK gave it a residential look and feel, with visiting areas both outside and inside and small suites for family visits.

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    Lexington-Fayette County Detention Center, Lexington, Ky. Located on the outskirts of town, near horse country, DMJM H&N's 1,280-bed jail is recessed into a hill to minimize its visual impact. The administration building (shown) was designed to look like an equine facility

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    Marin County Jail, San Rafael, Calif. DMJM H&'s jail has six pods that contain 222 cells. It is recessed into the hillside and has skylights providing natural light.

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    Mikiko Kikuyama Photography

    Union County Juvenile Detention Center, Elizabeth, N.J.: Ricci Greene Associates' 70,000-square-foot juvenile facility, which houses 80 boys and girls, wraps around nearly an acre of outdoor recreation space and brings in ample natural light.

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    Mikiko Kikuyama Photography

    At the center of the detention center's recreation yard is the gymnasium, its Kalwall panels acting as a lantern.

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    Mikiko Kikuyama Photography

    The metal skin on the side of the gym is the same as that used on the outside of the corridor it faces -- just rotated 90 degrees.

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    Mikiko Kikuyama Photography

    The glazed corridor wall allows sunlight to hit the floor inside, and the perforated-metal cornice serves not only as a modest sunshade, but also as a deterrent to climbers.

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    An open reception desk of glazed concrete masonry units, with an abstract backdrop of MDF panels, welcomes relatives and friends of inmates.

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    Mikiko Kikuyama Photography

    Two boys' units flank a small outdoor recreation yard (6). This arrangement brings sunlight into the dayrooms and also allows for casual surveillance between them.

Gone are the harsh steel chairs bolted to the floor. Gone are the dark rooms encased with bars. In their place are dayrooms designed to harness natural light and common areas outfitted with movable furnishings, carpeted flooring, and advanced double-glazed security glass without bars. Natural materials like wood are used when possible, and great care is given to acoustic levels. “When you reduce the decibel level, people's adrenaline level goes down, including the staff,” Ricci says.

Guards sit in the center of the unit and circulate through the space, which allows them to better interact with the population and help subdue conflict. When inmates act out, their privileges are revoked and they are removed to a more secure section of the building.

“Direct supervision is probably the greatest leap forward we've had in a long time,” says Jenny Hutchinson, the jails division chief at the National Institute of Corrections, an organization that frequently partners with architects on research, advocacy, and training. “It combines an architectural design with a philosophy of managing inmates. When it's done correctly, it can eliminate problems that we have considered inherent in jails, like violence and vandalism.”

She adds: “In a traditional jail, we inadvertently created a lot of bad behavior. We expected the worst of those inmates and we conveyed that by the way we interacted with them through the fixtures, the furnishings, and the design of the physical plant.”

Cupples, of DMJM H&N, thinks the direct-supervision facilities he designs have a positive impact. “I've always had this belief that what we do as architects is an art and a science, but also a social science, and that what we do can influence behavior.” In the case of his firm's award-winning, $29 million expansion of Pima County Justice Facility, a jail in Tucson, Ariz., the client wanted a safe, normative environment to reduce violence and support inmate release back into the community. The architects began by breaking down a large, 64-bed dormitory into eight, eight-person mini-dorms. This allows the inmates some level of privacy and greatly reduces noise within their housing areas. Inmates have access to dayrooms and outdoor recreation. Pima also added high-tech components, such as video visitation (another burgeoning trend in justice design), which allows families to visit during extended hours since staff do not have to physically move them to a visitation room.

Normative, direct-supervision designs are also being applied to juvenile detention centers. Ricci Greene Associates specializes in direct-supervision designs. The firm recently completed the Union County Juvenile Detention Center in New Jersey, a 70,000-square-foot building surrounding nearly an acre of outdoor space. Each housing unit centers around a dayroom with lots of glass and views to the outdoors, and every unit has its own recreation area. There is a full-scale gym as well as classrooms and resource centers.

So far, anecdotal evidence shows that direct supervision does better the environment for both inmates and staff. Before joining the National Institute of Corrections, Jenny Hutchinson spent seven years in the jail system as a correctional officer. She witnessed the transformation from remote to direct supervision firsthand. “I felt much safer,” she says. “I felt much more productive. I enjoyed working with inmates and felt as if I could use higher-level skills.” This is backed up by statistics being collected at the Pima facility. Arizona corrections chief Martha Cramer was so impressed that she wrote an article for Corrections Forum magazine extolling the jail's design and how it has reduced violent behavior and greatly improved the conditions for staff.

The cost to build direct supervision is not necessarily more than remote supervision, according to the NIC. Either way, it's a lot: According to the Pew Charitable Trust, states spend more than $40 billion a year on corrections.