56,250 Hours: Six Years Living In a Jail
Captain Tom Bay once told me that he was the longest serving "resident” in the Arapahoe County Jail. That statement caught me off guard, but when you look at the numbers his statement is true. Over the course of Tom's 25 years of distinguished service in corrections at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Col., he had spent over 56,250 hours within the jail walls. That’s six years of his life. Most likely this applies to the majority of the correctional officers in every jail in the United States.
I think about Tom every day when I work with a design team on a detention or correctional facility. Our profession has focused much of the conversation on improving the environment for the inmates, volunteers and family members who enter these facilities. Our designs can and should immerse them in environmental conditions where they can better their lives and hopefully reduce recidivism. However, it is just as important to improve jails as a working environment for the men and women who rove the halls year after year. The better we can make them feel within those walls through design choices, the more supported they’ll feel in making positive, corrective impacts on the inmates who are typically there for just a few days.
It’s achievable right now. The strategies that can be utilized for improving the work environment for correctional officers are the same design elements that have been used at schools and office buildings around the country.
- Daylight offers proven health, mental and physiological benefits. Incorporate daylight into as many occupied portions of the jail as possible - even all of them - through the use of security glazing, skylights and clearstory elements.
- Natural elements have physiological and calming benefits. While incorporating a living wall into a detention facility may not align with the tenets of safety and security, the utilization of earth tones, views to sky and treetops, incorporation of the warmth of wood elements where appropriate, and even imagery of natural settings provide an improved workplace for the correctional officers and may also assist with inmate management.
- Acoustic controls reduce tension. Detention facilities are designed to be secure and durable, which typically results in poor acoustics. The use of acoustic management systems wherever possible should be at the forefront of all justice designers decisions.
Designing sustainable, safe, light-filled, colorful, warm, uplifting work environments for the longest serving residents of our detention and correctional facilities is my goal. And I’m seeing great work currently being done throughout the Justice design industry that demonstrates this is achievable. These are spaces that will make jail captains and officers like Tom Bay better equipped to do their best work in the best environment possible, making the next 56,250 hours of their work-life something to be proud of.