At the recently redesigned Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in San Diego, a new approach to the prison system is being implemented. Iron bars have been replaced with large windows, and the overall appearance is more like that of a college campus.
The design is intended to rehabilitate rather than punish, in an attempt to combat the high recidivism rate of U.S. prisoners. Although U.S. prisons have been called “correctional facilities,” formerly imprisoned individuals will often go on to become repeat offenders and end up back in prison.
According to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics on 400,000 prisoners surveyed in 2005, a stunning two thirds were back in jail or prison within three years of being released.
Yet education programs have been shown to be successful at reducing these numbers. It is in this light that the Las Colinas facility was developed.
Jim Mueller, leader of the project at KMD Architects stated, “The intent was to replicate as much as possible, the demands and responsibilities they would face out in the community within this particular facility.” Towards that end, lodging for inmates has the appearance of dorm rooms, rather than cells.
There will of course be higher security units for individuals who are more dangerous, but the facility will operate on a step-down process, motivating the inmates using the incentives of less restrictive environments as they make progress.
The new model will have prison employees circulate freely among the population in an effort to correct minor problems before they become severe.
The $268 million dollar facility is one of the first U.S. prisons to try the design, and after one year of operation, both the staff and inmates have given positive responses.
The design is based on juvenile facilities where, it was thought, their behavior can still be modified because they have not yet established their behavioral personalities.
The need for a new prison system strategy has long been apparent, with 1 in 100 adults currently in jail or prison and the U.S. incarceration rate currently ranked second in the world. Las Colinas looks like it may be a badly needed step in the right direction.