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Eight essential keys to designing manageable, livable housing units.

Designing inmate housing units that make correctional workers' jobs easier and safer and inmates' lives more humane should be the objective of every corrections manager and architect.

This objective has two parts: manageability and livability. These interdependent notions suggest a new way of approaching housing unit design--physical attributes that enhance livability of the unit also improve its manageability because inmates' positive response to a more livable environment makes the unit more manageable.

What are some characteristics of a living unit with high marks for manageability and livability? In general, features that improve officers' ability to see, hear and communicate with inmates enhance their ability to manage a living unit. Also, physical features that tend to normalize the living environment evoke a more positive inmate response and reduce tension.

The following eight characteristics tend to reinforce inmates' positive behavior and make officers' jobs easier, safer and less stressful. You will note that many of these characteristics apply to direct supervision facilities; the principles of manageability and livability have most relevance under direct supervision, a concept that is incorporated into almost all newly constructed prisons and jails.

Visibility. All activity spaces of the living unit should be visible from the unit officer's normal work station. The activity spaces should not be subdivided with partitions that separate the officer from inmates. Ancillary spaces such as multi-purpose classrooms, counseling rooms and visiting rooms may be enclosed as separate rooms, but should be located within the officer's sight and sound.

The officer also should be able to see all cell doors and entry points without having to move from the work station. However, the officer should be expected to move about the unit frequently, and the communications and control functions should be designed so that the officer is not tied to the work station. The design should support the officer's need to have visual and physical control of the unit. To make communication easy, the work station should occupy a commanding position in the unit, but it should not be elevated.

Comfortable furniture. The main activity space, or dayroom, should be furnished and finished with materials and furniture appropriate for the planned activities. Principal activities in the dayroom include dining, lounging, television viewing and programmed group activities. Seating for dining and lounging should be comfortable.

Furniture should be movable in order to adjust to a variety of requirements throughout the day. In some facilities, class sessions and counseling groups are held in the dayroom. A number of manufacturers offer heavy, durable cushioned lounge furniture expressly designed for correctional settings. Lightweight, molded plastic seating for dining and lounging now is available for correctional environments. Tables of wood or laminated plastic have served many facilities well.

Acoustical control. Living spaces should be adequately treated and controlled so that background noise is not distracting or uncomfortable, routine communications between staff and inmates are enhanced, and conversations can be held without raising voices. Acoustical treatment should be applied to as much of the wall and ceiling surfaces as possible.

Television viewing areas should be adequately separated or arranged so that different programs can be viewed and heard at normal sound levels without competing with each other. Mounting television speakers in the ceiling above the viewers--as was done at the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago--provides normal listening levels while minimizing the transmission of sound into adjacent areas.

Ample lighting. Dayroom spaces should be well-lighted, using natural and artificial lighting to provide staff visibility to all areas and allow a range of activities, such as casual reading, classes, dining and lounging. Using skylights and clerestories provides an excellent source of pleasant, natural light. Coupled with automatic lighting controls, which dim or turn off the artificial lights whenever the natural light exceeds a set minimum level, skylights also can lower your electric bills.

Views. Views of the outdoors should be provided so inmates can feel connected with the outside world. Staff who spend 40 hours a week in the living unit also benefit from such views. Awareness of weather, the time of day and visual connection to the outside are important for the well-being of staff and inmates. Because staff and inmates spend the majority of their working hours in the dayrooms, dayroom windows are even more important.

Outside contact. Communicating with family, friends and attorneys via telephone conversations and visits benefits inmates' well-being. Enough telephones should be provided to ensure adequate access for inmates. Inmate telephones also can generate revenue for the inmate welfare fund.

In the pretrial detention setting, the visiting area should be placed within the housing unit so inmates do not have to leave the unit for visits. This minimizes the impact on housing staff and makes visits possible more often.

Outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation spaces should be visible and accessible from the officer's station in the dayroom. The best arrangement is to provide an outdoor recreation deck adjacent to each housing unit. If properly located, the officer will be able to allow inmates to move to recreation in controlled groups and numbers without any loss of his or her ability to monitor the unit. Outdoor recreation thus can be offered essentially on demand during most hours of the day or evening.

Dayroom as a classroom. Programs can be conducted in a well-designed housing unit. With this capability, there has been a resurgence of substantive programs in pretrial detention facilities. Programs have included education, vocational training, substance abuse training and counseling, and mental health counseling. Structured program activities of six or more hours a day can be conducted in housing units, with all of the inmates voluntarily committed to the program.

Physical provisions in the design should include outlets for normal audio-visual aids and sufficient number and spacing of power, telephone and data outlets for computer networks for computer-based classes or self-paced learning programs.

Beyond Livability and Manageability

The direct supervision approach has resulted in more responsible inmate behavior, leading to the opportunity for reintegration programming. Programs are being employed to deal with some of the fundamental problems inmates bring with them to jails and prisons, such as lack of education, lack of English language skills, substance abuse problems and lack of job skills.

Inmate programs pioneered in Contra Costa County, Calif., and Orange County, Fla., are outstanding examples of a broad range of successful programs geared to these inmates' needs. For many inmates, these programs provide the opportunity to begin changing lifelong patterns of criminal behavior.

For architects and institutional managers planning and designing new facilities, the challenge is great. As they begin the process, they should spend time together talking about goals and looking carefully at what has been done before. If they work together on every aspect of the design to maximize manageability and livability, the resulting facility should be successful--in terms of effective and cost-efficient operations and in terms of managing and influencing inmates' behavior. At the very least, it will provide a more supportive and rewarding work place for staff.

Wantland J. Smith, A.I.A., is vice president of Rosser Fabrap International, a planning, architectural and engineering firm located in Los Angeles. Jack Pederson, deputy director of the California Board of Corrections, contributed to this article.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Annual Issue Architecture, Construction and Design; prison housing units
Author:Smith, Wantland J.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Previous Article:Practical advice on designing probation and parole offices.
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