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Juvenile Justice: Institutions - Distinguishing Juvenile Correctional Facilities From Adult Prisons

building school secure ferris

It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish juvenile facilities from adult prisons. In fact, in some states, notably Georgia and Florida, the excessive building of prisons in the 1980s produced a surplus of prison-bed inventory because of either a fall-off of the number of new prisoners or insufficient operational funding from state legislatures. These states handed over the new prisons to juvenile correctional agencies to meet the demands caused by rising juvenile commitments. Spartan by design, adult prisons house inmates in cells and provide very little program space, such as classrooms, counseling areas, offices for staff in the housing units, and adequate recreational space. Until the 1990s, juvenile institutions were relatively open facilities with no perimeter fences except for secure units that had fencing around outdoor recreation areas only.

The Ferris School in Wilmington, Delaware, a seventy-two-bed secure facility built in 1997, bucked the trend of building a "juvenile prison." In 1990, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action suit charging that the Ferris School was overcrowded, unhealthful, unsanitary, and life endangering. In 1994, after four years of fighting the suit in court, the state decided to enter into a settlement agreement with the ACLU and to secure funds for a "new" Ferris School. The building represents an architectural breakthrough in balancing security and a rehabilitative environment that is spacious and filled with natural light. Each living area has twelve individual rooms with large outer areas for group meetings and light recreation in the evening. Correctional administrators from jurisdictions throughout the country have traveled to Delaware to obtain ideas for incorporation in their future building plans.

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