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Juvenile housing: facility designers need to address the unique needs of juveniles.


A primary tenet of juvenile is the recognition that youths are different from adults. To address this difference, a distinct body of law has been developed for dealing with juvenile offenders. Juvenile corrections also recognizes this distinction by incarcerating juveniles and adults in separate facilities. Accordingly, the design of juvenile facilities must reflect the unique programmatic and architectural needs of youths.

Design Context

Housing units are a critical component of juvenile detention or correctional institutions. While juveniles spend a large portion of their days participating in mandatory programs and services in other areas of the facility, it is the housing unit that exemplifies their "personal space." It contains the bedroom where sleeping, washing, relaxing and socializing all take place. The ACA standards for juvenile detention facilities and standards for juvenile-training schools both reinforce this idea, emphasizing that "the [housing] units are the foundation of facility living and must promote the safety and well-being of both residents and staff."


A key distinction between juvenile and adult facilities is the size of the housing units. Large housing units are common in adult jails and prisons, with 50 inmates or more residing in a single unit. In contrast, housing units in juvenile detention facilities and training schools should be much smaller to optimize the supervision of and interaction with youths. ACA standards dictate that housing units not exceed 25 residents, and smaller units are even more desirable, aiming for a capacity of 12 to 20, depending ont he population being served. Housing units of this size enhance the staff's ability to get to know the residents living in their areas and stay on top of things. Small housing units also are more normative and minimize the institutionalized feeling of large cell blocks or dormitories.

A variety of housing unit seizes and characteristics may be desirable to respond to the special needs of the populations being served. For example, juvenile detention facilities include boys and girls, preadjudicated and postadjudicated youths, and juveniles accused of crimes ranging from shoplifting to murder. The length of stay in detention can range from less than one day to several months. The ability to classify juveniles, and then have an appropriate housing unit to assign them to, is vital to effective operations and population management. Design flexibility - such as providing contiguous smaller units that can operate as two self-contained units or one larger one - helps officials respond to changes in population size and classification characteristics.


The configuration of the housing units also is an important design element in juvenile facilities. Configuration refers to the physical characteristics and layouts of the units, including the sleeping rooms and their relationships to the other elements within the housing unit areas. The configuration of the housing units in both detention and training school facilities should consider the following:

Direct Supervision Model. Direct supervision refers to both the physical design and the management approach of the housing unit. Design of the housing unit is "podular," with single rooms organized around a common day space. The design provides clear lines of sight for the supervising officer to all areas within the space. A key element of the design is the absence of an enclosed control station. Rather, the officer is positioned within the housing unit, in the dayroom, in direct contact with the residents. A small sitting or standing desk should be provided for completing paperwork, and for accommodating a panel for door controls.

The absence of a barrier separating the officer from the juveniles maximizes contact. By having a constant presence in the unit, knowing the residents and being aware of the dynamics occurring in the housing unit, the officer is able to proactively supervise the population, diffusing potential situations before they escalate. This is in stark contrast to indirect, remote surveillance, in which the officer can do little more than react to a situation after it occurs. (Note that a good classification system is paramount to the success of direct supervision housing. Juveniles who are not appropriate for this setting - usually between 5 and 10 percent - must be identified at intake and assigned to alternate housing units.)

Single Occupancy Rooms. While ACA standards for both detention facilities and training schools permit multipurpose housing in up to 20 percent of the facility, a key feature of the direct supervision model is single-occupancy rooms. Single rooms lend themselves to a more normative environment. They afford a degree of privacy and personal space, and they diminish the potential for problems associated with multioccupancy areas, such as theft, assault and intimidation.

Bedrooms should have an open space of 35 square feet unencumbered by room furnishings in their operational positions. The space should be at least seven feet in one dimension, permitting some freedom of movement within the room, and thereby minimizing the feeling of confinement in a restricted space. ACA standards require that the room has natural light provided by a window from the room to the exterior or from a source within 20 feet of the room. Security glazing should be used on windows, in place of glass, which could cause injury or be used as a weapon if broken. Windows should not have bars. In addition to providing a sense of being caged, bars might permit the attachment of a noose.

Rooms should include a bed, a desk with appropriate seating and provision for storing clothing. Some administrators believe that desks and chairs are not essential in the bedrooms, as the room is used only for sleeping. Including these amenities in the room, however, provides the sense of a room vs. a cell, and affords an element of personal space. If not included in the room itself, appropriate facilities for writing or studying should be provided elsewhere in the living unit (dayroom).

Dry Rooms vs. Wet Rooms. The issue of whether to provide dry rooms (without toilets in the cell) or wet rooms (with toilets) is a policy decision that should be made early in the programming and design process. There are several considerations. Wet rooms convey a highly institutional environment, reminiscent of adult jails and prisons. Dry rooms, on the other hand, are more normative and in keeping with the direct supervision management approach. The podular design of the housing unit allows officers to supervise residents who need to access the individual bathrooms that are located in the dayroom area. Residents access the bathroom one at a time, and officers know when they enter and leave these facilities. Individual showers also are provided in this area. This approach affords a sense of normalcy and privacy, and removes the opportunity for altercations that can occur in group toilets and showers.

ACA standards require unassisted access to toilet facilities 24 hours a day. While this is not an issue during the day, nighttime compliance is difficult to achieve if rooms are dry and kept locked during sleeping hours.

Bedroom Doors. A variety of safety and security issues must be considered when planning for bedroom doors. The doors must have vision panels of sufficient size to allow visual supervision of all parts of the room without opening the door. Glazing should be accomplished with secure materials, such as glass-clad polycarbonates, to eliminate the possibility of broken glass that can cause injuries or be used as a weapon.

Opinions differ on the proper direction of the door swing. Doors that swing out prevent the juvenile from wedging the door closed and, thus, prohibiting staff entry. Time lost in gaining access could be crucial during a suicide attempt or other life-threatening situations. Inward-swinging doors provide less opportunity for the juvenile to elude staff in a struggle and less opportunity for the door to be shoved into an officer's face when it is unlocked. Inward swinging doors also are less likely to be damaged if they are kicked, because the door is forced against the stop of the frame rather than on the locking mechanism. If doors swing in, it is important that no moveable equipment that might be used as a barricade is available in the room. Whichever direction the door swings, hinge pins must be on the exterior or unremovable and designed to prevent attachment of a noose in the event of a suicide attempt.

Dayrooms. The dayroom is an important element of the housing unit, and its configuration also can promote the direct supervision design philosophy. It is immediately adjacent to the sleeping areas, and separated from them by a floor-to-ceiling wall. The dayroom must contain at least 35 square feet of floor space for each juvenile expected to use the room at one time. Since the room will serve multiple functions (passive recreation, quiet time, television, unit meetings, etc.), it may be beneficial to divide the space, setting aside areas for quiet activities and more active programming. Housing units should provide some space for on-unit programming activities to accommodate programming throughout the evening hours.

The design of the dayroom should provide clear lines of sight, so that staff can proactively supervise all juveniles using the areas at one time. The layout of the area should encourage interaction between juveniles and staff. Again, remote control stations do not serve this purpose.

The dayroom is the heart of the living unit and should be furnished with durable - but comfortable - furniture, receive plenty of natural light and be well-ventilated for climate control. Careful selection of materials with varying textures and colors will enhance the juveniles' perception of the space.

Normative Value

Normative value refers to the benefits of providing an environment that, while secure, is as normal as possible in its appearance. Providing a normative, rather than institutional, environment can encourage positive behavioral response from juveniles who must be confined in detention centers and training schools. While secure adult facilities often have little daylight and few design flourishes, good juvenile facility design recognizes the value of a normative, yet secure, environment in promoting positive behavior and ensuring safety for residents and staff.

Normative living can be achieved through a design that provides residential amenities such as plenty of sunlight, acoustical control, familiar materials, variety of color and texture, and a noninstitutional scale, without compromising security. Features to consider in design of the housing units include the following items:

Natural Light. Natural light should be incorporated into the design of the housing unit. The use of materials that allows sunlight in improves the aesthetics of the area and can enhance security by "opening up" areas for increased visibility. For example, polycarbonate glazing - which ranges in strength from impact-resistant to bulletproof - can be used in the housing areas to visually open up the space, while also allowing the officer full view of all areas. Skylights in the housing units also provide abundant natural light in the dayrooms. And, as mentioned previously, natural light must be provided in the bedrooms, preferably through an exterior window.

Acoustics and Noise Reduction. A classic characteristic of adult facilities is the relentless din that comes from poor acoustical control. Noise can be reduced and controlled in the housing units by use of carpeting in the dayrooms. This also provides a less institutionalized look than concrete or vinyl flooring. Sound-absorbing security ceilings should be considered in those areas that are accessible to juveniles. In areas that are not accessible and have high ceilings, acoustical ceiling tiles can be installed. These can include hold-down clips that keep the panel firm and provide evidence of tampering. Bedroom doors should have sound-deadening strips or pads on the frames. Metal doors, if used, should be fabricated with sound-deadening cores to reduce noise.

Color and Texture. Materials and furnishings that introduce a variety of color and texture into the housing unit promote a more pleasant, noninstitutional environment for juveniles who must be confined in secure facilities. This might include the use of wooden vs. steel doors, glazing as described above, and furnishings that are both appealing to the eye and durable.

Safety and Security

Both safety and security are important considerations in the design of secure juvenile facilities. In the housing units, there are several issues:

Suicide-resistant Environment. Every effort should be made in the design and furnishing of juvenile detention facilities to provide a suicide-resistant environment. This is especially critical in the housing units, as bedrooms and bathrooms are the two areas where juveniles are not under constant supervision of staff and, therefore, most likely to injure themselves.

Furnishings, lights, ventilation, utilities and other items in a juvenile's room must be selected to resist suicide efforts. All elements must be viewed in the context of the potential for attaching a noose or for inflicting physical damage to oneself. This includes the following:

* no interior bars on windows;

* securely mounted fixtures without slits or protruding objects;

* no removable or detachable hinge pins in doors;

* securely mounted air grilles, not larger than one-eighth of an inch with frames flush on the wall;

* screen covers on vents that permit adequate ventilation but prevent youths from fitting fingers or cloth through them;

* recessed shower heads;

* beds that do not have openings or projections;

* drinking fountains without protruding mouth guards or drain slots;

* break-away hooks;

* nonbreakable mirrors mounted flush to the wall;

* no electrical outlets in rooms; and

* no access to plumbing chases.

Visibility and Clear Lines of Sight. Housing units should be designed to facilitate and enhance supervision, and maximize social interaction among youths. Vision panels and interior windows made of security glazing should be used to achieve maximum visibility and optimal staff involvement through direct and indirect supervision of residents. Interior courtyards and outdoor spaces (terraces) built adjacent to dayrooms increase light and a sense of openness. In addition, they enhance programming by allowing secure and easy access to open air spaces for recreation.

Plumbing. Contemporary direct supervision facilities have moved away from the notion that only stainless steel bathroom fixtures will withstand the rough use of secure facility populations over time. Porcelain fixtures, securely mounted, provide a more normative environment for general population juveniles in which the expectation of respect for property is established. Porcelain fixtures can be purchased at approximately one-tenth the cost of stainless steel fixtures. Units that require higher levels of security, such as intake and segregation, require stainless steel fixtures due to their ability to withstand abuse.

Water fountains should be security grade without protruding mouth guards or other elements that can easily be vandalized. Fountains should be securely mounted and access to motors should be locked.

Furniture. Classification plays an important role in the assignment of juveniles to various housing units in the facility. Furniture for the dayroom can be selected based on the suitability for the population that is being served. For example, fixed furniture, while very institutional in nature, may be required for residents who have been classified as requiring high levels of security, or for orientation and reception units, where residents have not yet been classified. For the remainder of the population, innovative materials and design provide a range of choices - from heavy, immovable furniture that is nearly impossible to lift, to lighter-weight furniture that is moveable and allows for greater flexibility. Natural wood and fabric furniture may be normative, but they are not as durable or long-lasting as moduform furnishings.

Specialized Housing Units

In addition to general populations, secure juvenile facilities must accommodate populations with special needs, including medical, mental health and administrative segregation. For the most part, housing units for these populations will be self-contained. As such, the living units will need to incorporate additional program space, a dining area, a kitchenette and recreational space. There also is an emerging trend toward developing facilities for serious adjudicated juvenile offenders who lend themselves to the concept of self-contained units such as these. For specialized populations, furnishings will most likely be fixed, rather than moveable. Larger vision panels may be desirable in mental health and medical isolation rooms, which also require special ventilation.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that facilities be accessible for both staff and residents who are disabled. Rooms that will house disabled juveniles must be designed with special attention to their unique requirements. For example, furnishings should be positioned and mounted at heights that allow access from a wheelchair, and grab bars should be installed in handicap toilets and showers to help juveniles maneuver in those areas. Door widths and exit paths also must be designed to comply with local, state and federal standards. The configuration of unencumbered space is especially important to a juvenile in a wheelchair. Consideration should be given to including one handicap-accessible room, toilet and shower in each unit.


The planning and design of juvenile facilities must recognize the unique requirements of the population being served. Housing units should be designed to maximize staff supervision and interaction with residents, and to look normative without compromising security. When designed with the considerations discussed above, the housing unit can become an environment that promotes positive behavior and enhances safety for both residents and staff.

Ken Ricci, FAIA, is president of Ricci Associates, an architectural and planning firm in New York. Laura Maiello is senior associate and juvenile justice planner for Ricci Associates. They are two of the many contributors to the upcoming ACA book. Shelley Zavlek is a senior planner for Ricci Associates.
COPYRIGHT 1999 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Witke, Leonard; Ricci, Ken; Maiello, Laura; Zavlek, Shelley
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Apr 1, 1999
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