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Jail Structure And Design Characteristics

There is no typical jail. Many jails are part of multipurpose buildings that also serve as the county courthouse, the sheriff's office, or the police station. Others are larger and self-contained. Although it is often charged that most jails are antiquated, the majority of jails were opened between the 1950s and 1980s. Although most jails are small, rural or suburban facilities, almost half of all jailed prisoners are in large urban institutions, which tend to be chronically overcrowded. Many jails utilize double occupancy, perching two or more inmates into cells designed for one. Large numbers of inmates are also housed in dormitories. Many of these arrangements are a far cry from meeting the standards promulgated by the Commission on Accreditation in Corrections. These standards require single celling for maximum security inmates. They also provide that all cells or sleeping areas in which inmates are confined contain thirty-five-square feet of unencumbered space. "Unencumbered" space is defined as usable space not occupied by furnishings or fixtures. When confinement exceeds ten hours per day, a situation found in most jails, the standards call for at least eighty square feet of total unencumbered floor space per occupant (American Correctional Association, 1991).

Architecturally, three generations of jails are discernible since their inception. The first-generation jail design dates back to the eighteenth century. It divided the jail space into inflexible cells and/or cage-like dayrooms. Rows of cells were composed of self-contained cell blocks facing large cages, or "bullpens." Inmates spent their days and nights like caged animals and had little contact with their keepers. Boredom and idleness prevailed, occasionally punctuated by outbursts of violence. Food was passed into the bullpens or cells through slotted doors. While most such jails have been replaced by newer facilities, a few remain along the eastern seaboard and in the northeastern quadrant of the United States. They are characterized by limited access to any sanitary facilities (including toilets) for long periods of time. Access to showers and washrooms is equally limited. Inadequacies such as these, when combined with short supplies of clean bedding, toilet paper, soap and towels, pose serious health and morale problems and clearly contribute to the high rates of infectious diseases found in many jail populations.

The second generation of jails has a linear construction, with multiple-occupancy cells and dormitories aligned along corridors. The latter may be arranged at acute angles creating a spoke-like effect. As was the case with its historic predecessor, the newer version was designed to operate with a minimum of staff. Many such jails utilize closed-circuit television (CCTV) and/or audio surveillance to augment staff supervision and control of the inmates. Again, their design provides little contact between inmates and staff. Supervision is effected by intermittent staff patrols of the jail corridors and technology. About one thousand county and major city jails were built during the 1970s and 1980s, amounting to roughly 30 percent of the nation's jails at that time (National Institute of Corrections, 1985). Despite claims to the contrary, these facilities suffered from the same deficiencies that had plagued their predecessors, including space and program shortages, crowding, inadequate physical separation between different types of inmates, and a myriad of maintenance problems.

While most counties and municipalities doggedly continued to pursue archaic jail designs when building new jails, a third-generation jail began to emerge during the early 1970s. Under the leadership of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) of the U.S. Department of Justice, several leading architectural firms were commissioned to develop designs for a new generation of prisons and jails. Simultaneously, LEAA funded the development of National Guidelines for the Planning and Design of Regional and Community Correctional Centers for Adults (1971) at the University of Illinois. The guidelines were a direct response to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, which focused national attention on corrections under the Part E Amendment of 1971. The guidelines led to the creation of the National Clearinghouse for Criminal Justice Planning and Architecture at the University of Illinois. LEAA through the clearinghouse provided federal support for programs and facilities that were consistent with advanced practices. Interdisciplinary in nature, the guidelines took an open-system approach. This paradigm focuses on the interrelationship between corrections, police, and courts, and envisions interdependent and interrelated agencies and programs that provide a coordinated and consistent response to the nation's crime problems. The guidelines, coupled with federal subsidies and thousands of technical assistance and demonstration projects, became a major turning point in the nation's quest to improve its corrections systems.

What differentiates third-generation jails (and prisons) from its predecessors is that the new designs were driven by the philosophical mandate that humane treatment of the accused and convicted offender must be at the very heart of the correctional enterprise. Concomitant was the idea that programming considerations should determine the physical design of jails and prisons, and that both should be applied to improve the institutional quality of life, enhance facility safety, and effect humane inmate control. The federal Metropolitan Correctional Centers in Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and San Juan are third-generation jails, having been constructed between 1974 and 1993. Today, a growing number of such facilities exist in many county and municipal jurisdictions. The differences between the old and new jail designs could not be more pronounced. Many jails are part of multifunction public buildings, sharing space with the courts and related public and social services. Jail intake is often based on an "open booking" concept, with staff seated behind a counter. Inmate housing is based on a pod or module concept. This means that housing is broken into groups ranging from eight to forty-six inmates. Each module is staffed around the clock by specially trained corrections officers. Modules are self-contained, combining the housing of inmates with visiting, programming, recreation, and related activities. The podular design reduces the need for inmate movement, enhances security, and increases contact between inmates and correctional staff. Interior and exterior finishes and furnishings provide a "normalized" environment in most housing areas except those used for discipline and segregation. Most direct supervision jails have carpeting, wood, upholstered furnishings, splashes of color, and considerable natural light. Housing units are also equipped with counters, sinks, drink dispensers, and telephones accessible to inmates in the dayrooms. Many pods have their own exercise machines. Cells have one or two bunks, a desk and seat, running water, intercoms, and sizable windows. Ongoing assessments of the effectiveness of third-generation jails indicate that they have, for the most part, succeeded in providing a safer and more humane environment for staff and inmates alike (Farbstein et al.). Not surprisingly, research has tied the success of the new facility designs to dedicated managerial leadership, improved human relations skills of correctional staff, and extensive training of all involved (Zupan and Menke).

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawJails - Historical Perspective, Contemporary Jails, Jail Structure And Design Characteristics, Jail Populations, Characteristics Of Jail Inmates