Magazine article Corrections Forum

New Spaces for Special Needs Populations

Magazine article Corrections Forum

New Spaces for Special Needs Populations

Article excerpt

The past quarter century has brought a dramatic change in treatment-and corresponding design-of mental health correctional facilities. Many believe that the hallmark of a good treatment center consists of delivering the requisite medical and mental health services but doing so in a center that's as "normal"-and safe-as possible.

Even in a secure setting, the look and feel of mental health facilities are moving away from a typical institutional set-up and embracing more of a community environment. According to this philosophy, inmates tend to respond better when placed in a more everyday setting, which can help them return to a regular existence. This is one of the most important goals of these facilities, as many of those incarcerated-especially with a history of mental illness-deteriorate in an institutional setting.

Through its extensive number of projects in this arena, HDR has found time and again that how inmates respond is related to the look and feel of the surroundings. If they are placed in an environment that's dingy or dilapidated, they'll tend to respond in a like manner. It has been determined that the more normalized settings tend to be less abused. When you give inmates a better environment that they feel more of a part of, they'll take more ownership in it and treat it better. This, in turn, is easier for facility maintenance. It aids in better treatment and, thus, potentially lower recidivism.

Introducing warmer colors and more natural materials, as well as what one might think of as routine responsibilities, are more conducive to having that person return to an ordinary life on the outside. To soften the look designers can first use more standard fixtures. This includes wood doors instead of steel, as well as high-tech fiber carpets, which have a greater ability to be kept sanitary.

If it isn't a maximum-security facility, fewer secure wall systems may be used, such as metal studs with chipboard walls, as opposed to concrete. Commercial-grade windows can replace their high-security counterparts. Even porcelain bathroom fixtures can be used instead of harsh steel units. Many prison systems tend to use paint colors like browns and grays. Using residential colors such as yellows, blues and greens, with little effort creates a softer look. In certain instances, inmates may even be allowed to incorporate their own belongings to the environment, like picture frames or art.

Safety is Foremost

While creating a comfortable environment is important, safety and security still remains the first concern. For the mental health population, it's essential that a thorough classification is performed. Prison overcrowding brings additional problems to bear as inmates are placed wherever there is room, not where they're classified. Situations occur where more maximum-classified inmates are placed in lower-classified areas, leaving less-hardened facilities vulnerable.

Within a mental health facility or wing of a prison, there may be a need for an area to isolate some inmates. One project that encompasses a direct supervision wing, the mental health wing at Hopkins Park Women's Correctional Facility in Illinois, features a day room for inmates and corrections officer, with cells arranged around the day room in a typical fashion. This set-up allows for interaction between population and supervising officer.

Behind this area is a security-glass partition overlooking a hall-way with an additional four to six cells. …

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