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Safe Environments

White Paper: Design Considerations for New Correctional Facilities

In our previous blog we set the stage for the current state of correctional facility design and discussed future applications. Here we’ll cover design considerations for devloping new correctional facilities.

The following are key “design tenants” that leading professionals are reviewing and incorporating into new Correctional facilities. These are not listed by importance, but by need of conversation:

  1. Humanizing Materials and Color
  2. Staff-Focused Amenities and Happiness
  3. Security and Safety
  4. Healthcare Services
  5. Therapeutic Design Tenants

Correction Facility Design Variables

Humanizing Materials & Color

In all facilities that play a role in rehabilitation, designers strive to create spaces that humanize, calm, and relax. Such spaces ease anxiety, modify behavior and inspire dignity. Mainly applicable for minimum to medium-security Corrections and transitional facilities, appropriate materials and color create an environment where inmates can learn, socialize and be productive. In addition, these interiors produce a warmer environment for those who work there.

Behavioral studies advise the use of better acoustics, day lighting, and the intentional use of color in order to produce a normalized environment that soothes the psyche and rehabilitates. Leading research shows that interiors which have an interesting use of material and color and that are not overly neutral will increase morale and mental well-being, ultimately reducing inmate and staff anxieties.

Norix Color Palette Design

Learn more about the role of color in healing environments by visiting the Norix blog post on “Color in Healing Environments.

For Corrections, this translates to improved safety. When inmates are calmed, their misconduct is reduced, which directly improves staff safety and resources. In addition, it is seen that when staff experience a safer environment, job satisfaction increases and life-saving rules and policies are more likely to be enforced. Color is also being used to logistically zone areas. Therefore, when using color to zone, it quickly enhances an officer’s acuity to recognize when an inmate has crossed into an off-limits area. Using color to zone spaces also assists with keeping mobile furniture in its correct area.

Staff-Focused Amenities & Happiness

It’s been shown that before they retire, long-serving correctional staff will do more time “inside” than most prisoners will. Also, it is becoming more difficult to recruit, train, and retain a Correctional work force. Baby boomers are retiring from the workforce at an alarming rate and causing organizations to lose vetted people in critical positions. In addition, Corrections is recognizing that officers and healthcare workers require special training and with this special training these individuals become more marketable in the private sector. According to Joyce G. Fogg, Virginia Employment Commission Chair and member of the ACA Work Force Advisory Council, “This is one of the greatest challenges corrections will face in the future. State and local budget restraints have kept many state departments of Correction from being fully staffed, and competition is further adding to state’s staffing woes as some workers realize that jobs in the private sector may come with more pay and less bureaucracy.” In times of economic distress this speaks volumes.

As the need for correctional officers, social workers, health, mental health, and educational professionals increases during the next decade, vital incentives including stronger career platforms, “staff focused” amenities, and overall job satisfaction play a key role in Correction’s ability to attract qualified workers and compete with the private sector.

Kelly Dial, professor at University of Mississippi in the Department of Administration of Justice, states there are four variables that are significant predictors for job satisfaction within Corrections:

  1. Feelings of Job Danger
  2. Work Stress
  3. Age of Worker
  4. Caring from Supervisor

Predictors of Job Satisfaction

Dial says reports have indicated that the less likely an employee was to have feelings of job danger, the more likely he or she was to be satisfied at work. Work stress and age were the most significant predictors of job satisfaction. As the correctional employee’s age increases, his or her job satisfaction increases. Dial also cites that the final significant predictor of job satisfaction is care from supervisors. Employees who report having less care from immediate supervisors are significantly more likely to have decreased feelings of job satisfaction.

Job dissatisfaction leads to critical issues for Correctional facilities. With many agencies facing staff shortages, Dial says that first-line supervisors’ care for their employees may be a practical way of retaining staff. Many solutions currently being used have risen out of business and medical setting research; mainly, the “end user” focused approach. This approach places high value on the employee, with supervisors focusing more on people and relationships than “toner and spreadsheets.” These supervisors had higher levels of productivity than those managers who made decisions themselves and dictated to subordinates.

For architects and facility managers, the challenge is to create inmate and staff areas that humanize and provide normalcy. These spaces need alternative materials and a more interesting use of color to lift the psyche and boost morale. Staff spaces infused with natural lighting and that provide well-appointed areas such as staff break spaces help to ensure staff perceptions that supervisors directly “do care” about them and their relationships.

Security & Safety

Without debate, this is a Correctional facility’s main focus – to protect staff, vulnerable individuals, and the public as a whole. Few would also debate the significant role planning and design plays in the outcome of a facility’s safety. As discussed, many items are being implemented to enhance all aspects of security and safety: smaller “pods” with community centers that are easier to supervise, use of technology that relieves officers and alerts conduct disruptions, increases in inmate-expanded programs and the introduction of humanizing materials and color. These strategies positively impact staff retention, place valuable staff back into circulation and provide better resources to support expanded programs and oversee special needs groups. As these walls come down, it is believed by Correction experts and administrators that color play a key role. Not only does color visually soften the otherwise harsh, lack luster environment, it can also be used as a tool to designate key areas and ensure inmates are appropriately within their assigned area.

Healthcare Practices

With many state mental health facilities closing and “depositing” their patients into Correctional facilities added with Correction’s aging population and an explosion of woman and juvenile inmates, the number and variety of individuals who comprise the country’s correctional population is quickly increasing. This is causing the link between the justice system and public health to be more pronounced than ever before and experts realizing that any serious dialogue concerning Corrections cannot exclude the critical component of Healthcare. In order to minimize poor inmate physical health and conduct disorders, we must provide total care. Therefore, just treating traditional physical health issues is not sufficient, and Corrections professionals are just beginning to recognize the need to address an inmate’s psychological well-being.

Corrections Furniture

A recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicated that at least 16% of those in Correctional facilities have histories of mental health issues. To some behavioral experts and Corrections professionals, this statistic seems low. It is also believed nearly two-thirds of those housed in Correctional institutions have, or have had, substance abuse problems and engaged in lifestyles that placed them at risk for deadly contagious diseases. Again, as Correctional facilities are being used as mental health depositories, these statistics are greatly increasing.

According to James Gondles, the ACA Executive Director, “Providing quality healthcare – both physical and mental – is a vital part of our efforts to return individuals to society better than they left and as contributing members.” This is influencing many A+D to “take a page out of medical facility design.” They are looking at how Corrections spaces can be weighted in therapeutic design and better promote mental and physical health, while not sacrificing safety and security.

Therapeutic Design Tenants

Many leading Correctional architects and medical consultants see direct physical and mental links in people who are incarcerated and those who are being treated in medical and mental Healthcare facilities. Science clearly shows that many inmates suffer from pronounced mental disorders and/ or serious addictions – many leading to complicated medical conditions. Adding in the issues of an aging inmate population, the influx of the “raging teenager” and an increase of female offenders, this produces a clear need for environments weighted in science which promote mental and physical well-being. In the medical world, these environments are highly valued and shown to reduce anxieties, positively change behavior and save costs. There is a wealth of research and data to support the incorporation of “therapeutic tenants,” such as day-lighting in inmate cells and program spaces, lowered acoustics, access to nature (literal and figurative), and utilization of softer materials and stimulating color. It has been demonstrated through research and medical facility’s “business models” that as fears reduce, anxieties decrease; the people within become more content – all producing a warmer, safer environment.

Conclusion and Additional Information

The information contained these past two blogs is intended as a guide for architects, designers, facility planners, wardens, other prison administrators, prison healthcare providers, psychologists and social workers that interact with inmate populations. It is a portion of a report entitled “The Contributions of Color” authored by Tara Hill, of Little Fish Think Tank.

Ms. Hill was commissioned by Norix Group Inc., in 2010 to research the role color plays in the safe operation of correctional facilities and behavioral health centers. More in-depth information specifically about the psychological influence of color and corrections facility design can be found by reading the full report.

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