RQAW Designs Jails with Modern Safety Standards

jail interior
Historically, jails were utilized to temporarily “warehouse” those that had been arrested and accused of a crime. Individuals were typically incarcerated in a jail for a relatively short period of time while a court determined whether they were to be sentenced to prison or released. For decades and decades, a safe jail was simply a facility that prevented escape and kept inmates from harming each other or staff. Today, the idea of a safe jail is significantly different. A safe and modern jail must not only meet those minimum standards but also provide for more classification flexibility for an evolving population, care for both physical health and mental health issues, and promote rehabilitation. RQAW’s innovative jail designs deliver each of these safety features and more.

A fundamental quality of a safe facility is one that can be operated in a manner that limits the chance of inmates and staff being physically harmed. Direct Supervision facilities have been built since 1981 and promote an expectation of positive behavior by placing an officer’s station in the housing unit dayroom, where staff can intervene in altercations before they escalate. However, this type of observation is very staff intensive and not operationally efficient. Simply put, most counties cannot afford the staffing required to operate this type of facility. RQAW has developed a design that incorporates the connectivity of Direct Observation with the staffing efficiency of Indirect Supervision. Our podular designs provide for an elevated central control station with a direct connection to up to twelve separate dayrooms and over 300 beds by utilizing operable panels in the windows. This direct connection to the housing units enables several strategic advantages for the officers while providing the opportunity to directly communicate with inmates. In the event that staff would need to intervene in a major altercation, they can do so by whatever means are deemed necessary from this elevated position, allowing other staff to more safely enter the dayroom at ground level. (See Figure 1)

Jail interior
Figure 1

Not only is it important to provide safety for both inmates and staff, but the ability to properly classify an inmate population is also critical to the operation of a safe and manageable jail facility. Today’s jail populations require a higher degree of classification than ever before due to several factors, primarily because of the growing female inmate population. For both male and female populations, the jail should segregate based on a variety of factors, including most violent from the non-violent, sex offenders, the mentally ill, and those in treatment programs. The number of inmates in each subgroup is constantly changing; therefore, the facility should include blocks of varying bed counts that are sight and sound separated. The elevated and directly connected central control design described above provides for this opportunity. In our designs, the sally port directly below central control provides access to each of the dayrooms, and these doors are sight and sound separated. Therefore, the blocks can be utilized to house any classification so that the bed counts of each block are maximized. (See Figure 2)

jail interior
Figure 2

Another design innovation that RQAW provides is the self-contained housing pod. Within the housing pod, and connected to the dayroom entry sally port, is a corridor with critical inmate support areas. These areas include exam rooms, meeting rooms for clergy or attorneys, video court, padded cells, and programming space. From the elevated control room, staff can control doors and allow some inmates the opportunity to move to and from these spaces without an escort. Because of their proximity to the housing blocks and the staff’s ability to control movement, the services delivered in these spaces are more easily, efficiently, and safely provided. In addition, some of these spaces can be observed and accessed from the elevated control room as well. (See Figure 3)

cross-section of jail interior
Figure 3

Lastly, the safety of a facility can be significantly enhanced by carefully monitoring and controlling everything that enters the detention areas. For most jails, this can be particularly challenging because the vehicular sally port leads directly to the intake and booking area. Therefore, before an arrestee can be screened (mental/medical health conditions, weapons, contraband, etc.), all arrestees, arresting officers, jail staff, and those being processed are all congregated in the same area. This can lead to the transmission of infectious diseases and presents an opportunity for other physical threats. Our innovative design separates a pre-process area that includes body scanning, pre-scan holding, medical/mental health evaluation rooms, changing rooms and property storage. The pre-process area enables a limited number of staff to control the arrestee population by utilizing pre-scan holding areas and determining if the individual poses a health or physical threat before they are moved into the booking area. (See Figure 4)
jail map
Figure 4

A major difference between old jails and RQAW’s modern, safe designs is the focus on rehabilitation. The deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill and closures of mental hospitals has had a significant impact on county jails. Unfortunately, Judges and Sheriffs have been faced with having to “lock up” the acute mentally ill in the interest of public safety because there is currently no other solution. For both mental health and substance abuse issues, rehabilitation is vital to the common goal of reducing recidivism. Drug treatment programs can play a significant role in this effort, and our facilities are designed to not only provide classrooms for programming but also multi-person dormitories that can be shared by individuals in treatment programs. Our housing spaces are designed to be flooded with daylight and can include lighting with color tuning to reinforce natural circadian rhythms. The spaces are also painted with multiple warm colors and calming tones. These features enhance the therapeutic environment, increasing the potential for effective treatment. While the feeling of the space is important for rehabilitation, it is also critical that the spaces be designed to prevent self-harm. Therefore, RQAW’s facilities are designed to be anti-ligature and include features like screening on the mezzanine level and stairs. RQAW’s designs provide safe spaces for treatment, to support rehabilitation and thereby reduce recidivism. (See Figure 5)

jail interior
Figure 5

There is a great need to improve the safety of jails and meet a higher, modern standard, while maintaining an important focus on rehabilitation. Given the right design, the effectiveness of this opportunity can be maximized. With almost seventy years of design experience and an emphasis on bringing the most innovative solutions, we are committed to providing quality service to meet any county’s jail needs. RQAW is your jail design expert.