Magazine article Corrections Today

New Rules in Juvenile Justice Design: As Congress Passes New Laws on Juvenile Crime, Architects Confront the Challenges of Housing These Youthful Offenders

Magazine article Corrections Today

New Rules in Juvenile Justice Design: As Congress Passes New Laws on Juvenile Crime, Architects Confront the Challenges of Housing These Youthful Offenders

Article excerpt

In the wake of the skyrocketing rate of violent juvenile crime between 1985 and 1992, Congress crafted a series of bills that impose tougher penalties on teen-age offenders. And while the number of teen-agers arrested for violent crimes has remained constant during the last several years, more and more juveniles are being treated as adults by the courts.

This change in the treatment of youthful offenders has resulted in a sharp philosophical shift in the planning and design of juvenile justice facilities. Correctional administrators have called for larger youth detention facilities with higher levels of security, but funding for more complex construction and operation has not been forthcoming. Architects and planners of juvenile detention facilities face many new challenges, while trying to do more with less. The following are some of the major trends in juvenile justice design that are impacting architectural practice.

Facilities That Work

Until recently, the underlying philosophy in the programming, planning and design of juvenile facilities focused on intervention and treatment. Normalized housing environments, where youths move outside the housing unit for all activities, helped differentiate youth facilities from their adult counterparts. The resident population was kept at 10 to 12 juveniles per housing unit. "Soft materials" such as wood, gypsum board walls, tile flooring, carpeting and skylights were incorporated into interior designs to minimize the perception of a restrictive environment. Further, the American Correctional Association (ACA)-recommended limit of 150 beds for juvenile facilities was generally followed. While a high staff-to-inmate ratio was necessary, albeit taxing on funds, this approach provided for a variety of intervention and treatment programs that helped break up the monotony of a confined, prison-like environment and provided adolescent residents with the movement, exercise and environmental stimulants necessary at their developmental stage.

For instance, when Colorado needed 296 replacement beds in 1986, the state's strategy was to develop several 24- to 36-bed detention facilities. The Zebulon Pike Youth Services Center, a 32-bed detention center located next to a county park in a residential area of suburban Colorado Springs, is one such facility. In addition to translating Division of Youth Corrections (DYC) treatment services into an architectural design that provides a normalized environment for juvenile offenders, the architects worked closely with concerned neighborhood groups to create a design that was sensitive to the residential/park setting. By conforming to the community context in massing, topography and landscape improvements, a school-like facility was constructed that is both secure and attractive.

The building design featured 12-bed housing units with integral living areas, a laundry, a kitchenette and single-person bathrooms. The split-level design of the units enhanced observation and control, and provided a variety of spaces within each unit. The housing units were arranged as a cluster around a central staff station which allowed for indirect visual supervision of living areas at all times. External access between the housing and education/dining areas promoted greater outdoor contact, while the arrangement of the buildings created a secure courtyard for exterior movement. A comfortable environment was achieved using gypsum board interior finishes, individual bathrooms and natural day lighting, all of which provided a design that was conducive to positive behavior.

Meeting Today's Needs

With the increase in the juvenile justice population and the scarcity of funds for capital construction and operations, new youth detention facilities are designed to be larger, more able to accommodate growth, and constructed of more cost-effective and durable materials. Yet, these larger facilities must be designed to be managed without increasing staff ratios, while achieving a normative environment and providing for cost-effective treatment programs. …

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