Facility Development Determining the Type of Facility Needed

For a secure juvenile facility to work well, it must first and foremost be a safe place. Residents should be able to leave and the public enter only at staff's discretion. The facility must be easy to manage, supervise, and maintain, and it must resist the hard use -- and at times abuse -- of the young people who reside there. It needs adequate space for required and desired programs and services. The space must be arranged in a way that allows staff to do their jobs and residents to do what is required of them in a flexible manner.

A review of plans and programs for juvenile facilities reveals a variety of physical and operational approaches. The approach chosen depends on a community's circumstances and attitudes. Architects generally try to be responsive to both the specific needs of their clients and the constraints imposed by budgets and sites.

Unfortunately, many facilities are designed without information on the specific expectations and needs of those who will use and manage the buildings. In these instances, designers may propose physical structures based on available juvenile or adult system models, which may or may not be appropriate. Without carefully considering the following factors, jurisdictions will be unable to determine the best possible approach for the physical design of their facilities:

  • Diverse methods of managing juvenile behavior.
  • Resident and staff responses to the physical environment.
  • Daily program structure.
  • Staffing patterns and costs.
  • Circulation and space-sharing patterns in a facility.
  • Responses to emergencies and other situations.

Considering these factors may lead planners to discover that a proposed design provides security but fails to achieve other essential goals. Because a successful design is based on the operational priorities of a particular project, rote design (i.e., one that proceeds without considering such priorities) will only compromise a project's goals and ultimate effectiveness.

There is no magical "best approach" to facility design. In developing any new or expanded facility, jurisdictions and their planners must find their own best approach, basing designs on their own expectations, rather than on preconceived architectural notions. The architectural/operational programming process described below permits such an individualized approach.

Architectural/Operational Programming

With growing demands for improved security, program quality, and architectural sophistication, predesign planning has become increasingly important. Operational programming -- which should involve key agency and community decisionmakers, court representatives, service providers, and other community stakeholders -- involves having these parties examine closely what they intend to accomplish with a proposed facility. Failure to involve all concerned parties in the process can lead to confusion and dissension.

The operational programming process typically begins with a review of a facility's proposed vision and mission statements (e.g., to protect the public and prevent flight from prosecution, provide a safe and secure environment, deliver programming and services consistent with legal requirements, and ensure resident health and welfare). These statements may serve as the foundation for building a hierarchy of programs and spaces. In many cases, however, the statements only begin to scratch the surface of expectations for a facility.

A comprehensive range of philosophical and operational imperatives should be established before physical planning activities begin. Such imperatives may include:

  • Implementing behavior management methods.
  • Respecting juvenile rights and recognizing juvenile needs.
  • Providing programs that address juvenile, system, and family needs.
  • Implementing methods for fostering resident accountability, cooperation, and participation.
  • Recognizing the importance of resident skills assessment and development.
  • Recognizing the importance of family involvement with residents.
  • Emphasizing effective intervention and treatment or punishment.
  • Appreciating and responding to resident gender, culture, religion, and ethnicity.
  • Recognizing the value of links to community and transition services.
  • Emphasizing the importance of returning juveniles to productive roles in the community.

These factors, among others, should guide the continuing development and refinement of programs, staffing patterns, environmental quality, and spaces at a proposed facility. If a facility and its services are to succeed, planners should address the use of space only after all other priorities have been established.

Next, operational programming should investigate the following specific issues:

  • Security and supervision methods.
  • Optimal residential group size for housing and activities.
  • Classification.
  • Special needs groups.
  • Scope of daily programs and services.
  • Scheduling of activities.
  • Visual/physical connections between activities.
  • Resident circulation and movement.
  • Environmental priorities (sound, lighting, furnishings, appearance, image).
  • Maintenance and repair (durability, life cycle costs).
  • Staff communications and support.
  • Potential staffing requirements and costs.
  • Staff qualifications and training requirements.
  • Codes and standards requirements.
  • Operational flexibility.
  • Future expansion potential.
  • Construction cost parameters.

A review of these specific issues will help to determine a facility's essential operational concepts and identify developmental options that are responsive to these essential concepts.

Following close on the heels of operational programming, architectural planning takes all of the previously assembled information and begins to -- enter real numbers and specific spaces into the equation.

Once a facility's major functions have been identified, the architectural planning process examines the various activities that take place in different areas, the number of people involved, and the times these activities occur. This analysis generates net area (square footage) requirements for anticipated activities. Net area requirements are then combined with circulation and other requirements related to resident and staff -- movement within the building, the need for other spaces (mechanical rooms, electrical closets, and various undefined spaces), and additional space required for wall thickness and other structural elements. This calculation yields the gross building area or total square footage required for the building. It is not unusual for the total square footage required by a residential facility to be up to 50-percent greater than the net area required for actual user activities.

While individual space requirements for facility functions are being developed (see table 1), architects should explore with facility operators factors -- scheduling, potential circulation patterns, supervision and staffing requirements, and options for connecting various spaces and activity zones -- to be considered in determining spatial arrangements. Architects should then develop construction diagrams that show the most efficient visual and physical connections (functional adjacencies) and indicate access control points and circulation patterns (see figure 1).

A facility's design can succeed only to the extent that it meets the needs and expectations of its users. Building a residential facility is expensive and, once construction begins, there is generally no chance to correct errors in design. Comprehensive operational programming and architectural planning provide facility planners with an opportunity to make the best possible decisions from the outset, before committing plans to brick and mortar.

Space Considerations

Defining the gross building area and general spatial arrangements makes it possible to project capital construction costs and related expenditures for furnishings, fees, and site work. Because these projections may form the basis for funding procurement and for ensuring that a building is constructed within budget, the related analysis of space considerations must be thorough. The process of examining space considerations and projecting costs must precede physical design efforts to ensure that all operational objectives are achieved and to prevent costly changes in scope during subsequent design phases (DeWitt, 1987).

The amount of space required for various facility functions depends on many factors, including State licensing and building codes, professional standards of practice (American Correctional Association, 1991a, 1991b, 1991c), and the operational priorities and methods governing where, when, and how activities are to take place. Operational factors should be given high priority because building codes and standards typically do little more than prescribe minimum spatial requirements (American Correctional Association, 1991a, 1991b, 1991c). Facility staff may require the flexibility to depart from certain professional standards of practice to fulfill operational needs specific to their own facility.

Although spatial requirements for secure juvenile facilities vary depending on a facility's capacity and scope of activities, these requirements usually include more space per resident than is required in facilities designed for adults. The demand for a high level of service and activity at juvenile facilities -- to keep juveniles occupied during the day and to facilitate the intervention process -- requires more space.

In facilities with 50 or fewer residents, spatial allocations of 700 to 800 square feet per resident are not uncommon. Larger facilities, which achieve certain economies of scale, may reasonably average 600 to 700 square feet per resident. A design that significantly exceeds these ranges without offering compelling justification may be seen as overly generous. On the other hand, one that provides significantly less space may jeopardize a facility's functionality.

Table 1: Sample Space Listing (Housing Component)

Space/Area Quantity Square
Total Net
Square Feet
5.100 Bedrooms (Standard) 9 70 630 Single User, Toilet
5.101 Bedroom (ADA Access)* 1 100 100 Single User, Toilet
5.102 Quiet Living/Dayroom 1 500 500 10 Users, Natural Lighting
5.103 Staff Desk 1 30 30 Open Station, Telephone
5.104 Restroom/Shower 1 70 70 Single User, ADA Access
5.105 Shower 1 40 40 Single User
5.106 Storage/Janitor Closet 1 80 80 With Janitor Sink
Total Net Square Feet 1,450  
Six Units (60 Beds) @ 1,450 NSF/Unit 8,700  

Note: Space Listing covers general population housing units with 10 beds.
Source: Mike McMillen, AIA
* Bedroom must be accessible according to standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Figure 1

Design Issues

An effective juvenile facility, through a combination of spaces, security features, and environment, allows staff to perform their jobs with ease and professionalism. Although operating an effective residential program for juveniles is never easy, the physical setting can help or hinder operations. If staff members have to struggle with a building to accomplish their objectives, they may not make the effort to do their jobs well or they may seek easier but less beneficial ways to perform their duties. In addition, a building with design elements that provoke undesired responses from residents will only make staff members' jobs harder.

Although no single combination of spaces, security features, and environment is appropriate for every situation, certain aspects of secure residential design are of universal importance. These aspects are discussed below.

Security and safety
Having a secure and safe facility -- the first requisite in secure juvenile confinement -- involves more than construction materials and hardware. True security and safety derive from a combination of physical materials, management methods, resident supervision, program features, staff support, and access control.

A sharp philosophical shift in the planning and design of juvenile facilities has followed the general trend toward tougher penalties on juvenile offenders (Niedringhous and Goedert, 1998). New juvenile correctional facilities are larger, better equipped with security hardware and technology, and better able to accommodate growth. They also emphasize the use of materials that resist abuse, destruction, and penetration by residents. Although materials that create a less restrictive environment may be available, using durable materials is a way to ensure that a building provides a first line of defense that staff do not need to worry about. If juveniles cannot escape or engage in damaging behavior as a way to exert control or gain attention, then both staff and residents will be able to focus on more productive activities.

Most new facilities feature a secure building perimeter that minimizes the potential for unauthorized resident egress, public access, and resident contact with the public. Within the building, major functional spaces such as housing, education, recreation, dining, and visiting areas are zoned so that staff can control resident access and maintain appropriate group size and separation. Many facilities control access between zones remotely (from a central security or control station), making it unnecessary for staff to carry keys (often a target of residents). To ensure continuous visual contact between residents and staff, walls of damage-resistant glazing are used extensively in partitions separating residential areas. Nearly all housing in new facilities consists of single-occupancy bedrooms with integral sanitary fixtures.

If these features seem like those already common in adult facilities, there is good reason. Juvenile justice practitioners today face many of the same safety and security problems that their adult system counterparts have long faced, making a similar level of protection necessary in juvenile facilities. In many ways, however, differences between juvenile and adult operations are more pronounced now than in the past.

Direct supervision
Direct supervision in adult corrections (Farbstein, Liebert, and Sigurdson, 1996; Nelson, 1993; Nelson et al., 1984) is not the same as direct supervision in juvenile facilities. The staffing ratio is one source of difference. Adult facilities commonly use 1 correctional officer for every 40 or more inmates (Nelson et al., 1984; Wright and Goodstein, 1989). To maintain safety and security with this ratio, adult facilities rely on electronic surveillance, security construction, and behavior management teams or therapeutic Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams charged with crisis management. By contrast, juvenile facilities usually need 1 staff person working directly with every 8 to 10 juveniles to ensure effective involvement and behavior management. (Having 1 staff member supervise 40 juveniles would be a prescription for serious problems.) In addition, almost all juvenile facilities use direct supervision staffing patterns, with staff physically present and directly involved with residents at all times. Juveniles are not (and should not be) left to their own devices or managed by remote control.

Higher staff-resident ratios at juvenile facilities allow for more effective interaction. When staff have many opportunities to work with residents, problems can be identified and resolved before they pose a threat to safety. Juveniles themselves will feel safer, will feel less exposed to unknown threats, and will be less likely to act out.

Another common and effective supervision strategy at juvenile facilities is having residents participate regularly in programs and services such as education, recreation, and counseling. A juvenile who is occupied and engaged is far less likely to present behavior problems. He or she will also realize general benefits in such areas as personal skills development, health maintenance, academic achievement, and cooperation (Glick and Goldstein, 1995; Henggeler, 1998; Rubenstein, 1991).

Normalization of the residential environment -- both the physical and operational character of a facility -- is another essential element in developing a safe and secure setting. Although a secure detention facility is not an environment that most residents would describe as normal, many facilities today are designed with the intent of minimizing overtly institutional characteristics so that residents will not engage in the negative behaviors that an institutional environment may prompt. Spatial variety, movable furnishings, natural lighting, acoustic control, housing/group size, and opportunities for resident movement are design elements that can help to reduce the sense of crowding and restrictiveness that often leads residents to engage in thoughtless and unsafe behavior.

Despite the need for increasingly restrictive physical features, juvenile justice professionals continue to emphasize the need for facilities to reflect intense concern for the juveniles who reside in them. For example, professionals demand buildings that support a wide range of activities and encourage ongoing contact between residents and staff. In this context, security and safety are recognized as necessary to accommodate people and places -- rather than as ways to create coercive and restrictive confinement.

Group size/classification
Another fundamental difference between juvenile and adult facilities is the typical size of resident groups or housing units. Although housing units with capacities of 25 to 40 are common at adult facilities, juvenile facilities rarely have units that house more than 12 to 16 residents and often have units that house as few as 8 residents. Juvenile programs avoid larger resident groups for various reasons, including the following:

  • Larger groups of juveniles are more difficult to manage.
  • It is harder for staff (who are often both counselors and supervisors) to work effectively with individuals in larger groups.
  • It is more difficult to move larger groups for various program activities.

An increasingly important reason for small group sizes at juvenile facilities relates to resident classification priorities. In the past, most juvenile facilities had relatively small capacities. These small facilities needed small resident groups in order to separate boys from girls and older youth from younger and to make it possible for staff to work with residents on a more individualized basis. Today, juvenile facilities are becoming larger, but the need for more refined classification methods (and for the ability to place residents in small groups) is more apparent than ever. Juvenile facilities are receiving a higher percentage of serious offenders, sexual offenders, juveniles with identified substance abuse and mental health problems, and female offenders. Accordingly, facilities need something other than a one-size-fits-all management approach. They need an approach that includes specially structured programming and services and the ability to classify and separate juveniles into small groups for housing and program purposes. Although program staff rarely, if ever, want to assemble large groups of juveniles, they should be able to do so when necessary or appropriate without being restricted by the organization or spatial limitations of a building.

The issue of what housing unit size is best has by no means been resolved and probably never will be. Economic considerations (smaller units usually mean higher staffing costs) often conflict with operational needs (smaller units can mean better staff management of residents). Therefore, different balances must be struck in different communities. Although most programs call for smaller units (up to 12 residents), some prefer larger units with multiple staff assigned to each unit to allow staff present to provide immediate support. Some jurisdictions insist on making all housing units in a single facility the same size, thereby permitting consistent and efficient staff allocation (because it is virtually impossible to predict how the number of residents in each classification will change over time). Others require the development of variable-size housing units so that certain groups of residents can be lodged in smaller groups, based on management and program needs. Although there is more than one way of doing things correctly, juvenile facilities generally lean toward smaller leaving a secure custodial setting is not an option for residents, the possibility that they will plot such an action is a continuing source of staff concern.

Environmental concerns
The wisdom of Vitruvius (the Greek scholar who explained that a building may be judged by its adherence to the principles of commodity, firmness, and delight) has certain relevance to environmental concerns that are pertinent to juvenile facilities. By commodity, Vitruvius meant that a building must serve the function for which it was intended. By firmness, he meant that a building should be able to withstand the rigors of wind, rain, and inhabitants. By delight, he meant that a building should provide enjoyment to its users.

Although it is easy to see how the concepts of commodity and firmness apply to secure juvenile facilities, it is harder to see the connection between secure juvenile facilities and the principle of delight. The concept of delight, however, applies in many ways to these facilities. The spaces that people live and work in profoundly affect their attitudes, comfort levels, and feelings about how good or bad their circumstances are. In turn, these perceptions influence people's approaches to getting through each day. A person in an inhospitable, threatening, or demeaning environment, for example, may feel overcome by circumstances and seek relief through isolation. A person in a restrictive environment might try to exert control over his or her situation by attempting to change things or simply trying to get up and leave.

In a secure juvenile facility, none of these responses is desirable. Juveniles who isolate themselves (emotionally or physically) become unreachable and pose special management problems. Juveniles who try to exert control through aggressive, confrontational, or manipulative behavior present a danger to staff and other residents and disrupt the smooth flow of daily activities. Although surface treatments, furnishings, and spatial configurations, can be used to create the perception of a calm and controlled setting.

Some secure residential facilities for juveniles are designed to inhibit or prevent these undesirable responses by physically restricting residents at all times and using materials and spaces that allow no opportunity for entry or escape. Such buildings, however, often evidence little consideration for the sensibilities of their occupants. At the opposite extreme, other buildings are completely nonrestrictive and are designed for management methods that rely entirely on staff and program structure to respond to and control any potential problem behaviors.

The majority of juvenile facilities fall somewhere in between these extremes, depending on the population being served and local attitudes. Most are designed both to be physically durable and to take human factors into account. Providing residents opportunities to cooperate and behave responsibly encourages them to do so and to become more accountable for their actions. The physical setting, while discouraging abuse or destruction of the building and its furnishings by residents, must also project an image that reinforces society's positive expectations of juveniles (rather than one that will provoke counter productive responses).

Such a setting offers a normalized or noninstitutional environment, one whose features will moderate the perception of institutional confinement. Small group living arrangements relieve the sense of crowding and the strain of fitting in with other youth. Natural lighting and regular physical and visual access to outdoor spaces reduce impressions of confinement, as does the ability to move among locations with varied spatial character. A quiet acoustic environment, achieved through carpeting and other group sizes and staffing levels that support this approach.

In a 1998 keynote address to the American Institute of Architects Conference, James Bell, a staff attorney for the Youth Law Center, described the optimal features of a juvenile facility as follows:

While technology may be good for adult incarceration, it has proven repeatedly to be a poor way to administer juvenile facilities. Use your designs as a tool to try to reduce warehousing of young people, many of whom have still not been adjudicated delinquent.

Make sure there is plenty of light and space. Juveniles in general are mercurial, and they definitely are so while detained. A light, spacious setting can improve their spirits when they return from court or from a visit that goes poorly.

Make sure there is enough space for large muscle exercise and for classrooms and contact visiting. Be wary of multiple use rooms that are supposed to serve as the primary classroom. You can believe that any space not designated specifically for classrooms will probably not be used as such. There are too many competing needs for any large space and school will be one of the first casualties.

I know that you can design facilities that downplay the negative aspects of confinement and provide positive space through your use of natural light, glass, colors, textures, and furnishings.

Staff support, communication, and supervision
One of the great challenges in developing effective operations and management practices in a juvenile facility is the need for staff to work consistently and effectively with residents. To do so, staff must be confident of both their personal safety and the overall security of the facility. When staff are responsible for too many residents, when they doubt the availability of assistance in emergencies, or when they have a limited number of responses to resident behavior, they are likely to avoid close contact with residents under their care and rely on physically restrictive measures to achieve control. As a result, program quality suffers, and a more institutional character prevails.

Appropriate group size is a decisive factor in staff members' perception of control. The ability to keep groups within various zones also contributes to a sense of control. Other design features affect staff perception of control. Housing and activity spaces, for example, should be arranged in a way that promotes a high degree of visibility for staff within and outside those areas. Juveniles should not be able to conceal themselves in corners or rooms that are not directly supervised. Resident circulation between physically controlled security zones (housing, education, recreation, visiting, dining) should also be direct and easily observed by staff. Residents should know that they are being observed at all times and that there are no gaps in surveillance -- even when staff are not working with them directly. Remote audio and visual monitoring systems should be used, as appropriate, to supplement direct supervision and to ensure backup during periods of low staffing.

Staff members must also be able to communicate immediately with one another at all times. Access to audio communication systems should be uncomplicated and widely available. In many new facilities, staff are equipped with cordless telephones or other wireless communication devices to ensure instant connection to other staff and prompt notification of others in the event of an emergency.

Housing is a critical issue in designing a successful juvenile facility. As discussed above (under "Group size/classification"), housing units for juveniles tend to be smaller than those in adult facilities. The vast majority of units in juvenile facilities support 8 to 12 residents -- the maximum number, according to juvenile authorities, that a single staff person can manage effectively with a high level of staff interaction and safety (Parent et al., 1994). Although smaller units may result in less efficient staffing patterns, they may be necessary for certain categories of offenders. Larger housing units -- though more common in recent large facilities -- are generally considered unacceptable in small facilities because it is harder to classify residents when they are part of larger groups.

Housing units must support such varied activities as sleeping, counseling, studying, reading, writing, playing board games, using a computer, and watching television. Staff generally want housing areas to be quiet spaces that provide residents with a sense of calm, reflection, and privacy after days filled with structured programs and activities. To control noise and intensity levels, active pursuits such as table games, exercise, and recreation often occur outside of, but close to, housing areas.

To create spatial flexibility and allow for certain program activities in housing areas, many housing unit designs include living space beyond the minimum levels required by national standards. Many facilities also now incorporate easily accessible activity spaces, both indoor and outdoor, in close proximity to housing.

Some new facilities feature housing units based on the "unit management concept," meaning that the majority of resident activities (including dining and education) occur within the housing unit. This approach minimizes resident circulation. Most residential programs, however, involve extensive movement of residents among spaces and reserve housing units for sleeping, studying, and engaging in certain small group activities. Although either approach can be successful, the decision to pursue one over the other should be carefully considered during project planning phases because the two approaches require radically different designs.

Regardless of the amount of resident movement envisioned, most housing areas in new juvenile facilities include the following:

  • Single-occupancy sleeping rooms.
  • Group living spaces.
  • Individual showers and restrooms.
  • Storage spaces for clothes, linens, and other items used on the unit.
  • Accessible janitor closets (which facilitate resident participation in cleaning).

Staff desk areas are often included in housing areas to allow staff members to complete paperwork and related activities in close proximity to residents. According to the mandates of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, housing unit designs must also now include a certain number of bedrooms with wheelchair access. Many housing units and the areas within and immediately adjacent to them also have laundry facilities that allow resident participation, interview rooms that may be used by social services and other staff members, additional storage space, and "timeout" rooms that permit temporary separation of residents who are exhibiting disruptive behavior.

Single-occupancy sleeping rooms are preferred in most juvenile confinement settings. Although professional standards and case law permit the use of multiple-occupancy sleeping rooms, practitioners have found that shared sleeping spaces -- even with intensive supervision -- are often a source of increased juvenile injuries, intimidation, and other undesirable behaviors. ACA standards require facilities' living units to be designed primarily for single-occupancy sleeping, allowing no more than 20 percent of housing capacity to be multiple-occupancy sleeping rooms (American Correctional Association, 1991a, 1991b, 1991c). The court in T.I. et al. v. Delia et al. (King County, WA), for example, held that having three or more youth in one sleeping room constituted a potentially dangerous, and even unconstitutional, threat to individual safety and ordered a stop to multiple-occupancy sleeping rooms (i.e., those with three or more residents) in juvenile detention facilities (cf., Puritz and Scali, 1998).

OJJDP's Research Report Conditions of Confinement: Juvenile Detention and Corrections Facilities (Parent et al., 1994) has similarly linked increased juvenile-on-juvenile injuries to large dormitories (11 or more residents in one large room) and recommends eliminating dormitory sleeping arrangements in all juvenile facilities. Because of these concerns, many program operators faced with crowding refuse to place more than one resident in a sleeping room, opting instead to put extra mattresses in separate and easily supervised dayrooms or hallways to minimize the potential for injury or other dangers.

Because sleeping rooms are the hardest areas to supervise, they should be a facility's most durable and abuse-resistant spaces. Hard finishes and stainless steel sanitary fixtures are commonly used, windows and frames are designed to be durable, and windows are designed and located to prevent external communication. Sleeping rooms should include audio communications systems to allow residents to contact staff and staff to contact and monitor residents as necessary. Doors, whether made of heavy-gauge metal or solid wood, should have vision panels. Although fire safety regulations may require remote release doors, normal operations usually allow staff to control sleeping room doors with a key.

Suicide prevention is a paramount concern in designing facilities. The time that a juvenile spends in his or her room, when contact with staff and other residents is limited, can be the most emotionally disturbing period of the juvenile's entire incarceration (Hayes, 1998; Rowan, 1989). Recognizing the potential for suicidal and other dangerous behavior, most residential programs seek to minimize the time that juveniles spend in their rooms. In addition, programs attempt to eliminate protrusions and sharp edges in sleeping rooms and limit residents' access to hardware or other materials that might be used for self-destructive purposes. Sleeping rooms today are consequently more spartan than in the past, an environmental trade off considered acceptable given the need for increased safety and the limited time that residents spend there. By contrast, group living spaces in housing units today are generally more open, less confining, and more easily supervised than in the past.

Most program operators favor single-level housing arrangements over multilevel arrangements because single-level arrangements permit easier access to and better supervision of sleeping rooms. Site restrictions, staffing levels, cost constraints, and other factors, however, sometimes require facilities to consider split-level or two-story housing arrangements, with bedrooms stacked vertically around a common living or dayroom area. Although many newer facilities have used this approach successfully (Dugan, 1998), it poses significant design and operational challenges, including potential difficulties with vertical circulation, resident access, emergency egress, room checks and supervision, and ADA compliance and the potential for behavior problems (e.g., jumping or throwing objects from upper levels).

For the most part, secure detention housing spaces are intended to provide a constant level of physical security and supervision that supports flexible use (based on needs determined by staff). Spatial and material distinctions are less important design considerations than a facility's ability to use housing spaces in a variety of ways that may be modified over time.

Programs and Services

Having a full schedule of programs and services available to residents facilitates effective management of their behavior. Keenly aware that residents may find unproductive or damaging outlets for youthful energy when limited opportunities for positive activity are available, program staff in juvenile facilities believe that structured educational and recreational activities are the best defense against misbehavior (Roush, 1996c).

In addition to their behavior management benefits, program and service opportunities are essential to residents' health and well-being (Bell, 1990, 1992, 1996; National Commission on Correctional Health Care, 1999; Soler et al., 1990). Facilities accordingly allow visitation and provide comprehensive education, recreation, counseling, religious, and medical services (Roush, 1993). Although specific requirements for programs in each of these areas are not always defined, professional standards, case law, and State codes mandate provision of these services (Roush, 1993), and best practices demand something more than a minimalist approach.

Although educational programs may meet the letter of the law by assigning residents a few hours of homework each day or requiring them to complete self-directed learning packets and related activities, program operators usually believe that more extensive academic activities are necessary to meet residents' needs (Leone, Rutherford, and Nelson, 1991; Wolford and Koebel, 1995). The time that a juvenile spends in custody, when educators can have his or her undivided attention, is often described as a "teachable moment," a time when considerable learning can take place (Cavanagh, 1995). Given this opportunity, many residential programs feature hours of year-round educational activities (formal and informal) that focus not only on standard academic subjects, but also on the following:

  • Life skills development.
  • Communications skills assessment.
  • Remedial reading and writing instruction.
  • Conflict resolution skills development (including instruction on social skills, anger management, and healthy lifestyles).
  • Computer literacy.
  • Learning skills assessment.

Daytime learning activities frequently carry over into the evening and may also include counseling and group instruction in subjects such as anger management, peer pressure responses, and substance abuse resistance. A well-founded residential program seeks both to identify problems that may contribute to delinquency and to initiate coordinated educational responses to these problems.

Recreation includes such diverse activities as exercise and sports, constructive leisure activities for individuals and groups (e.g., crafts, cards, and board games), intellectual activities (e.g., reading, writing, and problem solving), and certain less active pursuits (e.g, computer games) (Calloway, 1995; Grimm, 1998; Roush, 1996c). Active recreational activities (which involve vigorous competitive and noncompetitive activities) are an essential part of daytime and evening programming (Bell, 1990, 1992, 1996; Soler et al., 1990). The availability of indoor space for these activities allows residents to pursue active exercise regardless of weather conditions. Outdoor recreational opportunities should also be available to relieve the stress of constant indoor confinement. For these, practitioners generally favor easily supervised outdoor areas that are close to housing and indoor activity areas (for easy access) and suitable for small groups.

Visitation with family members usually involves scheduled periods for group contact visitation,5 supplemented by prearranged private visits as appropriate. Most facilities include group visiting rooms and private visiting rooms (for meetings with family and legal counsel) within a building's secure perimeter but outside its primary residential areas. Some program operators oppose bringing visitors into any residential areas, given the possible disruption of programming for juveniles receiving visitors, the need to control contraband, and other safety concerns. Some facilities also have a limited number of noncontact visiting rooms to be used in the rare circumstance when potential harm to residents or visitors is anticipated.

Health care
Most juvenile facilities' medical services include medical screening, regular examinations, sick call, and distribution of medications (Morris, Anderson, and Baker, 1996; National Commission on Correctional Health Care, 1999; Owens, 1994). Because they require round-the-clock medical staffing, infirmaries are provided in only the largest facilities. Emergency medical services and ongoing medical supervision are usually provided as needed at designated off site locations, except in the largest facilities.

Because of the number and diversity of health-related problems experienced by juveniles and the proliferation of medications being administered to juveniles in custody, the availability of regular care and attention by qualified medical professionals has become a matter of increasing concern for juvenile facilities. The expanding scope of medical services needed for juveniles in secure residential custody has resulted in increased space needs. Many facilities also now include health education for juveniles as an integral part of their programs.

Site Selection Issues

Site selection is one of the most perplexing decisions jurisdictions face when developing juvenile residential facilities. Many projects encounter resistance from community members who fear that placing a facility near their homes will make their neighborhoods unsafe and cause property values to plummet. Responses of this nature are inevitable when a project is announced without community input and participation. Community involvement should begin at a project's earliest stages and should include meetings to provide background information and public hearings to respond to citizen concerns. Although involving the community will not guarantee a facility's acceptance, failure to address local concerns publicly and directly will invite conflict.

Unfortunately, the fear of political backlash or community opposition too often prompts planners to select remote sites that are incompatible with operational needs. From a practical planning perspective, site selection should focus on identifying locations that satisfy a range of operational needs, including the following:

  • Public access. The site should provide convenient access to families, legal counsel, and local agencies that will have contact with residents. It should be easily accessible by private vehicle or public transportation.

  • Adequate land area. The site should have sufficient space for a facility's initial construction needs and possible future expansion. Adequate space for a buffer between public areas and secure residential areas is also desirable. A site that is too small may necessitate undesirable vertical development and circulation or may limit outdoor recreation capabilities and future expansion potential.

  • Proximity to population served. Juvenile facilities should be located near the districts from which their populations are drawn. Such proximity ensures convenient access by families. It also helps facilities recruit staff with cultural/ethnic backgrounds similar to those of the residents being confined. Unfortunately, lower property costs for land in remote locations sometimes lead jurisdictions to select sites in areas that pose access and staffing difficulties.

  • Proximity to courts. For facilities that hold youth prior to adjudication, sites should be close to both the courts and the facilities where youth may be placed after adjudication and disposition. Such proximity will minimize the time that staff and residents need to spend away from the facility and reduce staffing needs and transportation costs.

  • Compatibility of adjacent land uses. Site selection should focus on locations that support the residential character of intended operations. Heavily industrialized areas are generally inappropriate, as are areas with traffic volumes that would threaten effective monitoring of a site's perimeter. Excessive noise (for example, from transportation or a nearby commercial enterprise) should also be avoided.

Site selection and land acquisition are often highly politicized processes and may ultimately require compromise. It is difficult to find a site that satisfies all concerns (Ricci, 1995). Unfortunately, some institutions built in remote areas because of economic incentives end up being staffed by underpaid and undertrained individuals who differ culturally and racially from the resident population (Butterfield, 1998; Kearns, 1998). To avoid such situations, planners should make every effort to identify the characteristics of critical concern to operators and address potential obstacles before the site selection process is finalized.

Construction Costs

Almost every jurisdiction contemplating the construction of a new juvenile facility agonizes about the high costs involved. Although there are ways of reducing costs (e.g., through more efficient systems designs of physical plants and buildings), jurisdictions can go only so far in this direction without compromising operational integrity and environmental quality. The costs of juvenile facilities are especially troubling to funding authorities who compare such costs with the significantly lower relative costs (on a per resident basis) of adult facilities. This comparison is unfair, however, because juvenile facilities usually require substantially more square footage per resident.

At present, juvenile facilities that are highly durable and include a full complement of education and recreation areas and associated administrative, admissions, food service, and other support spaces cost an average of $140 to $160 per square foot for the building itself (McMillen, 1998). This amount includes all construction materials, mechanical/electrical systems, security equipment, and hardware. It does not include additional costs for site work, parking, landscaping, architectural/engineering services, or furnishings; nor does it allow for any contingencies during construction (i.e., changes required because of unforeseen circumstances). These additional costs can increase the cost of facility development by 30 to 35 percent (McMillen, 1998). Even higher costs should be anticipated in locations with high construction cost indexes (e.g., large metropolitan areas).

The cost per bed space is also influenced by a facility's size. Small facilities (25 to 50 beds) require support spaces not appreciably smaller than those in larger facilities (50 to 100 beds), which are able to achieve economies of scale. For this reason, small facilities frequently average between 700 and 800 square feet per resident, while larger detention facilities average 600 to 700 square feet per resident. Long-term care facilities frequently provide more space in support of expanded programming options.

Using average costs for construction and development expenses, table 2 provides examples that illustrate total project costs expected for facilities with 40- and 80-bed capacities.

These examples do not by any means encompass the complete range of development costs for juvenile facilities. A review of recent juvenile facility projects, in fact, reveals that costs vary considerably (above and below) those presented in table 2.

Table 2: Construction/Development Cost Examples

Cost Factor 40-Bed Capacity 80-Bed Capacity
Total Square Feet/Resident 750 650
Cost per Square Foot (1999) $150 $150
Total Construction Cost $4,500,000 $7,800,000
      Sitework @ ±9.5% of Construction $427,500 $741,000
      Furnishings @ ±5.0% of Construction $225,000 $390,000
      Arch./Eng. Fees @ ±8.5% of Construction $382,500 $663,000
      Contingency @ ±10.0% of Construction $450,000 $780,000
Total Project Cost $5,985,000 $10,374,000
Total Cost per Resident $149,625 $129,675
Note: The table does not include financing/bond costs or administrative fees.

Operational Costs

As high as construction costs may be, they represent only a fraction of the costs that a jurisdiction developing expanded detention capacity will have to bear each year during the life of a facility. For example, the authors' experience has shown that staffing expenses which account for approximately 80 to 85 percent of annual operating expenditures in facilities with a direct supervision staffing pattern require annual expenditures amounting to about 25 to 27 percent of a facility's total development cost. The percentage is somewhat lower for large facilities and somewhat higher for small facilities. Staffing expenses include all direct supervision, administration, and program and support services staff that most facilities require. When other expenses (food, clothing, supplies, utilities, communications, normal maintenance, travel, training, and related items) are added to staffing expenses, a facility's total annual operating expenditures may approach 30 to 33 percent of the total facility development cost. To operate a facility, therefore, jurisdictions must allocate approximately one-third of a building's cost for each year the building remains open. (For example, a facility that costs $10 million to build will cost approximately $3 million to operate each year.)

For a new facility that will be used for at least 30 years, total operating costs over the lifetime of the facility will exceed construction costs by 10 times or more. Expenditures will actually be even higher, because the operating budget described above does not include expenses associated with debt service of initial construction bonds or the cost of the inevitable repair and replacement of structural and mechanical systems over the life of a building.

A physical design based on staffing efficiency -- even if it will involve higher construction expenditures -- is of utmost importance. In the interest of fiscal responsibility, however, jurisdictions should carefully consider long-term operational costs throughout the planning process. Only by examining all potential operational expenses rigorously will planners achieve the best possible balance of physical design and supervision needs. The high cost of secure operations further underscores the importance of seeking cost-effective detention alternatives that reduce residential capacity needs while providing necessary supervision, management, and system flexibility (Moon, Applegate, and Latessa, 1997).

5 During contact visitation, a detained individual and his or her visitor(s) are in the same area; in noncontact visits, they are separated by safety glass.


Construction, Operations, and Staff Training for Juvenile Confinement Facilities JAIBG Bulletin   ·  December 1999