The Next Generation of Detention Facilities
Last year studies from the National Association of Counties indicated that 64 percent of jail inmates have mental health issues. The reality is that the design of existing jail facilities do not adequately house, let alone treat, those with mental illness. As a result, more counties and states are beginning to re-assess, re-define, and re-build detention facilities.
Re-Defining Design Priorities
In the past, jails were designed to incarcerate, and medical and mental health programs had to fit within this environment. Today, our approach reverses that perspective. Now we design focused facilities for medical and mental health patients, and the incarceration requirement is a specific feature within this new model, not necessarily the primary deliverable.
Best practices and evidence-based design will play a leading role in the design of future medical and mental health facilities. There is little research on this updated model, so the newer designs will play a major role in determining its effectiveness. This new approach incorporates natural light, outdoor views, calming colors and natural finishes, while still maintaining a secure environment. Additionally, newer facilities that focus on mental health include internal courtyards with landscaping and views from sleeping rooms. We are also taking into account the special population types, assuring properly sized units meet the unique needs of individuals housed in these spaces.
Asking the Right Questions
The main difference in how we design is based on the types of questions we are asking. In the past, we saw more emphasis on designing jails based on maximizing the number of beds and security. We are taking a big departure from asking, “How many beds can we fit in this space?” With a move toward a more rehabilitative justice model, we are exploring how to reduce recidivism rates by providing programming spaces to educate, socialize, and address medical and mental health issues. I see a need coming in the future to design specific parts of, or full facilities, dedicated only to medical and mental health inmates.
Facing the Challenges of Change
I was recently asked what the issues and obstacles are to making this kind of change in detention. I’m not sure it’s just one issue, especially when it comes to the evolution of addressing mental illness within the detention setting. We are always learning and educating ourselves, our clients, our communities and the law-making agencies across the country in this area of justice architecture. Many things need to occur to turn these places of detention into healing environments for inmates and their families, while keeping the communities safe.
We are just now beginning to see evidence-based results of facilities and programs that combine to create healthier and rehabilitative environments for offenders. I’m hopeful that this new design approach is going to be a real game-changer in detention and correctional services.