Merging Juvenile Justice and Sustainability in California

By Bloede, Carolyn | Corrections Today, June 2009 | Go to article overview
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Merging Juvenile Justice and Sustainability in California


Bloede, Carolyn, Corrections Today


Juvenile justice and sustainability intersect at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center (JJC) in San Leandro, Calif. The center houses 360 beds for juvenile offenders, a five-courtroom building, medical and dental facilities, educational facilities, and offices for public defenders, district attorneys and other justice officials. The 379,000-square-foot complex received a gold rating from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, an independent certification of the U.S. Green Building Council. The gold rating makes JJC the highest-rated green juvenile justice facility in the nation.

The idea for a new juvenile justice facility began to take shape in the 1990s, when it became clear that Alameda County's at-risk youths needed increased supervision, mentoring, counseling and education all under one roof. The old juvenile hall, built in 1953, could not be adapted to provide these services. So, the new center, completed in April 2007, was constructed to integrate treatment, education and court services in one location for approximately 4,000 youths annually.

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JJC focuses on comprehensive assessments that drive placement in development ally appropriate therapeutic and educational programming. As a comprehensive, multidiscilinary short-term residential youth detention facility, JJC provides enhanced evidenced-based treatment services for youths. Custody time averages 24 days. At the center, the district attorney, public defender, behavioral health care services, medical services, educational services and youth development providers are co-located with the probation department, facilitating collaboration.

With its green design, JJC also provides a high-quality indoor environment with natural light and clean air to provide a healthy foundation for the youths' care. At the same time, its green operations care for the youths' future by preserving California's water and energy resources, fighting climate change, and saving taxpayer dollars.

Designing a Green Justice Facility

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When local government leaders decided to replace the old juvenile detention facility, designing a landmark green facility was not the county's highest priority. Rather, consolidating countywide youth services into one location was the top project goal given to the county's General Services Agency. In addition, state co-funding was dependent on meeting an aggressive construction schedule.

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Early in the project, two events occurred that set in motion the activities that would eventually lead to the green project of today. Input from the community required a significant site change, and the board of supervisors passed a green building ordinance mandating LEED silver rating for all public buildings. Even though projects already under way were not subject to the ordinance, the county and project team made an environmental justice commitment to build a healthy and safe environment for youths and those serving them.

This was the county's first foray into LEED certification and county administrators knew that it would be challenging to build a green detention facility. The requirements and regulations for detention and court facilities make many typical green features (e.g., operable windows) inappropriate. Furthermore, continual building operation with resource-intense services, such as laundry and cooking, and technology-dependent security devices with increased energy consumption added an additional layer of complexity. However, the decision to pursue formal green certification was made by committed county administrators.

With a target of "the greenest juvenile justice center in the nation," the county took a bold leadership stance that green is everyone's responsibility. It then created public-private partnerships with the design-build team, which included local small businesses and youths, to achieve schedule, budget and building performance goals.

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