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The 21st century prototype prison.


Despite contrasting rural and urban settings, these facilities share many similarities, from operations and staffing, to security and design. During the 1990s, criminal justice systems implemented tougher sentencing guidelines and sophisticated law enforcement techniques and experienced decreasing crime rates, increased arrests, rising prison populations, and heightened public awareness of crime and punishment. Some criminal justice experts consider prison construction and efficient use of prison space for the incarceration of violent and repeat offenders key factors for decreasing crime rates. Others attribute changing demographics, the crack epidemic decline, and local factors as equally significant. Still, the outlook for the next decade calls for an ongoing need for more prison construction.

To meet this demand, correctional administrators are under constant pressure to plan, design, build and open new facilities as quickly as possible. Prototypical correctional facilities are an effective solution for activating additional capacity quickly because they are based on a single design and adjusted incrementally to meet operational needs. Prototype facilities enable corrections departments to save time and money through reduced overall capital project and construction costs, design fees and related overhead expenses.

During the last 20 years, the North Carolina Department of Correction (NCDOC) has built five close security institutions using a successful prototype prison design. The prototype was site-adapted and refined each time to reflect local conditions across a geographically varied state. These prototypes, designed by Bill Fripp, principal of Freeman White Grier Fripp Architects in Charlotte, N.C., are based on clear sight lines and efficient and effective staffing patterns for secure operations. The design was so successful that, in 1997, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) selected the North Carolina prototype for site adaptation for the new 1,000-bed close (maximum) security Toledo Correctional Institution, scheduled for completion next year.

North Carolina Model

The North Carolina prison system consists of 86 correctional facilities, mostly minimum and medium security campus prototypes. These facilities, along with the close security prototypes and a maximum security prison, hold an inmate population of approximately 32,000.

Prototyping accomplishes several important objectives. As NCDOC learned, prototype design development requires agency decision-makers to discuss and agree upon the programmatic and operational approaches that will determine the architecture. This process builds consensus on inmate management and operations across a large and geographically dispersed prison system.

Once an operating philosophy is agreed upon, administrators can more accurately predict the required staffing levels and associated costs well ahead of construction schedules; this data is needed when seeking operational funds from the executive and legislative branches of government. Request for and authorization of the appropriate number of staff needed to manage the facility safely and securely is critical.

With the operation of multiple prototypical prisons designs, all correctional staff receive similar training and experience, thus enhancing mobility and interchangeability within prototypical institutions. Staff familiar with prototypes can more readily adapt to working in a newly constructed facility and activate building systems and equipment.

Design Goals

According to Fripp, the North Carolina prototypes evolved in 1980 because NCDOC wanted to provide inmate rehabilitation programming during evening hours. Campus buildings with exterior circulation were not as secure as single compact units with constant inmate observation capabilities.

Other design goals were efficient housing unit staffing and clear sight lines between officer posts and control rooms. The first design team included Fripp and NCDOC operational staff. Together, they developed a successful prototype that was built twice, and was subsequently refined and increased in capacity before being built three more times.

The first two 480-cell prototypes, Southern Correctional Center in Troy and Eastern Correctional Center in Maury, built in the early 1980s, consisted of two 192-bed medium and close security, single-cell housing, and a 96-bed segregation unit. Both were built for approximately $16 million each, using steel and wood forming construction. Housing and support units have since been added to each facility.

In the early 1990s, Fripp, in collaboration with NCDOC's management, refined the design for a 712-cell prototype, [TABULAR DATA OMITTED] with construction costs ranging from $30 million to $33 million each. These three prototypes, Foothills, Marion and Pasquotank correctional institutions, were built with "tunnel" forming, a construction method consisting of poured-in-place concrete instead of modular precast units. NCDOC chose tunnel forming because of reduced costs and labor time compared to modular precast concrete construction.

NCDOC currently is designing its next wave of close security prototypes. The department has contracted with a three-design firm collaborative to design a 1,000 cell prototypical close security institution to he site-adapted at three different locations. The design collaborative consists of Little and Associates, O'Brien Atkins Associates and Walter Robbs Callahan and Pierce Architects. This group has asked Hellmuth Obata and Kassabaum Architects of Washington, D.C., to serve as lead programming architect. Many elements of the previous close security prototypes will be used in this developing design, but with some new approaches directed at reduced construction costs, space and operational efficiency. Construction drawings for these prototypical institutions are scheduled for April 2000 completion.

Operationalizing New Facilities

After construction completion, additional time is required to train and acclimate staff to the new facility and ensure all building systems function properly. This phase, known as "operationalizing" in North Carolina, also is known as "ramping up," "shakedown time," "commissioning" or getting facilities "on line."

Through the use of prototypes, NCDOC has rapidly completed facilities at reduced costs and addressed capacity deficits promptly. By increasing capacity on a timely basis, North Carolina also has maintained constitutional conditions of confinement and reduced the state's vulnerability to inmate litigation.

Prototype designs reduce the 90 to 120 days generally needed for training time between construction completion and inmate occupancy. Staff transferred from other facilities are already familiar with the physical conditions. With a typical prototype, that schedule can be reduced to 30 to 60 days, allowing occupancy sooner than with an unfamiliar new building.

Prototypes offer several benefits regarding maintenance. With many similar systems, maintenance staff become more knowledgeable of prototype building performance. Maintenance, warehouse and inventory investment costs are reduced when several facilities use the same building systems, equipment and materials. As a result, purchasing departments can buy inventory in greater volumes and at reduced overall costs.

While replicating the same design has many advantages, mistakes in design can be repeated several times, especially if an ongoing review process for feedback and facility improvement is not implemented. Bad design decisions can lead to reduced security or increased operational costs.

Good design must enhance operational efficiency. based on usable building life, initial capital costs comprise only an estimated 4 to 5 percent of the overall building life cycle operating costs. To ensure good feedback, facility managers should encourage communication with their staff. Receiving comments from those who occupy and manage a facility on a daily basis is essential to providing safety, security, cost control and product quality in subsequent prototypes.

Site Selection Goals

While high-capacity prisons may be more efficient, North Carolina is not building "megaprisons." Instead, NCDOC prefers building 700 to 1,200-bed facilities at various locations throughout the state. Prototypes solve many operational issues, but they must be site-adapted to meet local community and site conditions. Since the 1980s, the NCDOC has combined prison construction with statewide economic development efforts.

Although ideal sites and locations are not always available, improving the economic climate of counties and local communities is an overriding goal. Dispersing the inmate population statewide also enhances security operations and programs.

NCDOC has avoided direct involvement in land acquisition and instead relies on counties to provide potential prison sites at no cost to the state as their contribution to economic development. While some communities have struggled to buy and offer land for prison construction, the department believes that the benefits of a building that will last at least 50 years, new jobs and a steady payroll justify local community investment. Avoiding land purchases will reduce project costs that may be applied elsewhere. As part of the site adaptation work, because soil conditions may vary at different sites, NCDOC has driven pilings (a construction technique for foundations), has been required to raise sites with fill, and even remove significant amounts of soil to prepare flat sites.

Other important site selection factors include available access roads, utilities, acreage and minimum land requirements. "The ideal prison site is flat, requiring minimal earth movement," says Ed Spooner, principal, Freeman White Grier Fripp. "Some states have had to go as far as flattening mountains for prison sites due to political considerations and effectively distributing facilities statewide.

Ohio's Approach

In the early 1980s, the Ohio DRC began a $600 million prison construction program. Administrators recognized that inmate classification drives construction, with higher security levels resulting in higher capital costs. A decade later, the department added dormitory prototypes at several facilities. DRC has replicated food service and segregation unit buildings at two locations and site-adapted 184-bed dormitories several times.

in March 1999, DRC's inmate population was about 48,000, at 129 percent over capacity. During research for a new close security prison, the DRC team visited four facilities, the last one being Foothills Correctional Institution. Although the NCDOC prototype was in a rural setting, the Ohio team saw many features they liked for their proposed urban residential site.

"We wanted everything under one roof, because many of our campuses have individual buildings. Our criteria called for a close security facility, compact design, very basic, no frills. We visited the Foothills facility and liked the way it worked. The configuration met our needs; it was well thought-out, succinct, compressed, with good sight lines. We liked the 'plain Jane,' no fluff quality." says Dave Blodgett, chief of the DOC's Bureau of Construction, Activation and Maintenance.

These plain design elements included brightly painted walls about 8 to 9 feet above the floor. "There are no ceilings; the pipes are painted jet black and seem to disappear from view," says Fripp.

As in North Carolina, DRC also used tunnel forming for cell construction. During construction of the Youngstown (Ohio) supermax facility, tunnel forming by local labor kept the job moving, and resulted in more secure units. Using local contractors created economic development benefits over the long and short term.

The long, narrow 80-acre Toledo site - only 1,000 feet wide - posed challenges for the new 1,000-bed facility. With subsequent design refinements and site adaptation, the NCDOC prototype footprint proved compact enough to fit on the site.

The Toledo Correctional Institution (TCI) consists of 18 housing units, with an increase from the original 32 to 48 beds, all single wet cells; and two levels of 136 maximum security cells. Housing units are two levels high, with a ground floor and mezzanine, each with a control room. Direct sight lines connect three dayrooms, in the maximum security unit, a control room is located at the center of four dayrooms. The rooms have 360 degree views, allowing constant surveillance.

These direct sight lines sold Blodgett on the NCDOC prototype, along with control room locations and versatility of inmate support areas. DRC modified the prototype to suit its programmatic needs, adding a "man-down" sensor system pinpointing problem locations, and increasing staff training and administrative areas for more offices and meeting rooms.

Overall, housing units, and most support areas were left intact from the NCDOC model. DRC users, including medical and mental health staff, reviewed plans and offered suggestions during design. The 80-bed Residential Treatment Unit wing was added to provide mental health housing, suicide prevention, counseling areas, offices and support services. Education, industry and vocational areas were designed for maximum flexibility and space because, like NCDOC, DRC does not always know what future programs will be in place.

Security staffing patterns in the TCI housing units will be similar to those in North Carolina units, with one direct supervision officer in each of the three dayrooms and one officer in the control room overseeing all doors. In the evenings (third shift), one officer covers three dayrooms and one officer remains in the control room. TCI will create 350 to 375 new jobs.

Site Visits

Project teams considering a new building should travel and visit different facilities to observe how other departments address similar issues. This process allows managers to set priorities and review options, in addition to housing units, site visits should tour food service, medical units, security and maintenance areas. "Don't take anyone's word; go and learn for yourself," Fripp advises. "Talk to the field operators and administrators and see how efficiently inmates are managed."

Meetings, work groups and a multidisciplinary collaboration should be employed to produce a consensus document, outlining goals for the new facility. Achieving consensus on so many critical issues is a major challenge during this process, but carefully considered responses will yield more comprehensive results.

"Unlike a new, custom-designed building for each client - the commission most architects prefer - a successful prototype needs a designer willing to continuously refine and revise the same building design," says Spooner. "The element of surprise is reduced. Owners know what they will get but must exercise care to ensure that prototypes meet their needs."

A successful programming document reflects the operational philosophy and physical plant needs during a Ions-term planning horizon. This includes space needs, adjacency diagrams illustrating relationships between specific departments and rooms, and population projections. Ultimately, this document will be an essential tool for the architects selected for facility design and site adaptation.

"Prototype designs provide many operational and design cost savings," Spooner concludes. "With careful planning, research, consensus building and site visits, corrections administrators can build on lessons learned at other facilities and apply that knowledge to their own facilities back home."

Barbara A. Nadel, AIA, is principal of Barbara Nadel Architect, in New York City, specializing in correctional, health care and special needs programming, planning and design. Lynn C. Phillips is assistant secretary of the North Carolina Department of Correction in Raleigh, and is responsible for the planning and management of the department's prison construction program.
COPYRIGHT 1999 American Correctional Association, Inc.
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Article Details
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Author:Nadel, Barbara A.; Phillips, Lynn C.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jul 1, 1999
Previous Article:Justice system integration: on the threshold of a new era.
Next Article:Best practices: technology in corrections.

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