WELL Building Design: Environments for Positive Life Change
Every year the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences meets and engages in a robust conversation on a variety of ideas related to research, policy, education, and practice within the field of criminal justice. This year, I had the privilege of presenting to the Academy my argument for how WELL Building Standards have potential to directly impact our justice facilities; particularly in the case of juveniles with chronic mental health issues.
The Birch Cottage Renovation project on the Green Hill School campus is a prime example of how we integrated key factors for WELL Building addressing air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort, and mind. Operated by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, the facility serves male youth with chronic mental illness where they learn to manage their mental health issues. Creating a safe, nurturing, healthy, comfortable, restorative, and soothing environment contributes to profoundly impacting these youth—and the staff—in a positive way.
Specific design components supported the goals of the State using WELL Building standards in the following ways:
- Nutrition. A life-skills kitchen where youths learn to make nutritious meals.
- Comfort. Improved HVAC systems provide better air quality.
- Restoration. Harvested rainwater creates a soothing water feature in the rec yard.
- Mental Health. Daylight reaches nearly all occupied spaces, including dayrooms, living rooms, classrooms, and sleeping rooms, with window views of the horizon.
- Fitness. A covered basketball court provides exercise opportunities year-round, as well as a park-like recreation yard that includes a small garden area.
- Safety. A variety of spaces provide options for privacy, group activities, normative sleeping rooms, and an outside fire pit as space for reflection and constructive socialization.
I find the WELL Building Standards more directly align with our efforts to elevate the human experience for individuals interacting with the justice system. The human and holistic focus moves us beyond mere system efficiency considerations and embraces the human elements of health and wellbeing including nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep patterns, and performance of a building’s occupants.
This approach to sustainable design is especially important for buildings where occupants are 24/7 residents. As correctional and detention facilities become more normative and treatment focused, the facilities themselves must specifically respond to the mental and physical health of inmates—and staff. My hope is that one day we will no longer look at this design approach as a research and education topic, but rather that it will be a de facto approach to affect change in the lives of those who need it the most.