Correctional Design

Rivergum Residential Treatment Centre

Rivergum Residential Treatment Centre, a secure residential treatment facility designed to house 20 residents from serious sex offender and violent offender cohorts, has recently opened in the Grampians region of Victoria.

The post-sentence facility, designed by Guymer Bailey Architects, has been created to provide intensive treatment to target rehabilitation prior to transitioning back into the community and includes staff offices and training spaces, various rooms for programs, training and education and individual residential units to encourage independent and community living.

Rivergum Residential Treatment Centre.  Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Rivergum Residential Treatment Centre. Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Rachel Hur, the project lead on the Rivergum Residential Treatment Centre, said the Centre had been designed to reduce recidivism rates in Victoria.“This facility is the first of its kind in Victoria and displays the commitment Corrections Victoria has to providing intensive treatment and supervision to serious offenders to reduce risk of reoffending.”

To avoid an institutional feel, the Centre uses a mix of warm materials such as timber both internally and externally throughout the buildings, as well as landscaped outdoor areas (with walking paths, gardens and exercise equipment) to provide a greater connection to nature from both staff and resident areas. Independent living has also been encouraged through the design, with individual residential units linked to communal spaces.

“The individual residential units are designed to encourage independent living for residents to help them transition back into society. Shared communal spaces also allow for community-type interactions with other residents in a way that is very different to the operations within a correctional facility. Research from the UK has shown that supported housing like this is an important part of effective rehabilitation and reintegration.” Rachel said.

There are three standout design features of Rivergum Residential Treatment Centre:

The Perimeter Fence

Due to the secure nature of the brief, the perimeter fence still needed to function like a prison perimeter – but these traditionally feel harsh and overbearing. To minimise the correctional feel, a fence was designed with precast concrete panels at the bottom and with a perforated steel fence above. An image of trees is created with the perforations in the fence providing visual relief in the perimeter border. The fence has been detailed in such a way that it maintains the required security levels.

The Timber Cladding

The main building is clad in timber on the second floor to distinguish it from the other single-storey buildings and almost eliminate the feeling of being inside a secure facility. The timber cladding also forms an anti-climb façade to the resident side. Blackbutt timber was used due to its amazing, rich tone that will naturally grey over time.

Programs Building at Rivergum.  Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Programs Building at Rivergum. Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

The Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) Initiatives

To ensure sustainability through the design of the Rivergum Residential Treatment Centre, we worked closely with our expert ESD Consultant who guided our material and systems selections to maximise quality and long-term savings. These initiatives also aim to reduce energy consumption and decrease impact on the environment.

Passive Design: Passive environmental design principles were incorporated into the buildings to reduce the need for mechanical heating and cooling, and calculated sun shading elements such as the timber fins on the main building’s northern façade were also built in to reduce summer heat loads. Other passive design techniques include attention to building orientation, insulation, natural ventilation and thermal properties of materials.

The windows of the facility were specified to have high performance, double-glazed units, which minimises heat transmittance, and thermally broken aluminium window frames to eliminate cold bridges from the outside temperature into the buildings. The staff offices also have double glazed operable louvres, which operate automatically depending on the internal office conditions to maintain optimum indoor air quality. 

Putting preference on natural ventilation to achieve high indoor air quality levels, most of the rooms across the site, including the residential units, utilise a Lunos unit, which continuously trickles in fresh air from the outside without the need for a full HVAC system and thus decreases energy use. The main Programs building was given a central, triangular courtyard to minimise depths of floor plates to maximise natural day light into the spaces, reducing the need for full internal lighting during the day.

Central Staff Courtyard.  Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Central Staff Courtyard. Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Materials: Insulated precast concrete sandwich panels were used inside to maintain high R-values and stabilise internal temperatures. The floors throughout the facility are generally honed concrete, which also attributes to thermal mass, reduces the need for additional flooring material and creates a raw but characteristic finish to the spaces.

Insulated sandwich panel roofing completes the continuous insulation around the buildings. This was achieved by careful detailing of the insulation in the walls and to the underside of the slab which all join with the roof insulation like an uninterrupted wrap around the building. This essentially stops any heat or cool air leaking out of the buildings, which can lead to overuse of HVAC systems and creates a continuous insulation wrap around the buildings .

Staff Breakout.  Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Staff Breakout. Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Residential units use the thermal mass of the brick veneer and concrete filled structural walls to keep the units cool in the summer and warm in the winter without mechanical systems . The floors in the residential units have in-slab hydronic heating. The high thermal mass of the concrete allows for it to absorb, store and release heat, thus making the heating system more effective with less energy use for winter months. All the residential units also utilise the Lunos units and have operable windows, filling the units with constant fresh air and freedom for users to control the internal environment based on their needs.

A geothermal system supplies energy for the hydronic heating, further reducing the heating energy consumption. The geothermal system also provides cooling for the mechanical systems in the main programs building by circulating coolant through loops in the ground that use the natural sub-surface temperatures to cool down before recirculating again.

Geothermal energy is still not very common in Australia, but when used in conjunction with the other sustainable initiatives at Rivergum, such as understanding thermal mass of materials like concrete and combining it with effective systems like in-slab heating, it is designed to reduce energy consumption and provides a better environmental outcome as it relies on natural ground temperatures and only requires a small pump to recirculate coolant through the pipes.

Multi-Faith Chapel and Contemplative Garden.  Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Multi-Faith Chapel and Contemplative Garden. Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

On Site Collection: External sustainable initiatives were also included in the design such as solar panel shade structures over the car park and thoughtful design of networked swales to maximise stormwater capture for storage in underground water tanks.

The solar shade structure use is a two-fold: one was to provide off-grid power to the facility; and the other, to provide staff vehicles protection from the extreme summer and winter temperatures. Each car space is estimated to provide approximately 3kWh. To compare, an average household of one person uses approximately 9kWh per day. 60 car spaces are covered, which means there is enough power generated to supply around 20 single households per day.

The facility is 100% electric, and the inspiration behind this innovative idea was the Department’s aspiration for Net Zero Energy in all new facilities. By harnessing clean energy, the facility can reduce its carbon footprint and has a chance to offset the embodied and consumed energy of the materials, construction and use of the facility.

Solar Panel Shade Structure.  Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Solar Panel Shade Structure. Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

The Rivergum Residential Treatment Centre is a clear example of what can be achieved through innovative rehabilitative design. Providing a non-institutional space which still operates as a secure facility, residents can more easily adjust to life in the community.

The Rivergum Residential Treatment Centre was recently shortlisted in the 2019 Victorian Architecture Awards Sustainability Category.

Normalisation in the Correctional Environment

Normalisation has become a bit of a buzzword in the design of correctional facilities, but what does it really mean? A group of the Guymer Bailey team sat down recently to discuss what constitutes a normalised environment and how close we’re getting to achieving it.

What does normalising a correctional environment mean? What do you see as the main benefits?

Kavan Applegate –  The normalisation of ‘what’ needs to be asked. Is a correctional environment aiming to be/look/feel like a house? Or a school campus? Is a cell trying to feel like a bedroom? Or is it more about normalising daily routines and activities? “Normal” environments are often messy or untidy, but institutions aim to be clean and tidy. Is it OK if a cell is a mess, like someone lives at home? Maybe ‘normalised’ isn’t the right word?

Yoshi Seki – In my opinion, normalcy is about allowing prisoners to manage their life within prison to give them a better chance of adjusting back into society upon release. Normalisation comes about through a combination of the physical environment and the way the correctional centre operates. It’s about emphasising the rehabilitation aspect more than punishment, which ultimately reduces chance of reoffending. 

Ravenhall Correctional Centre.  Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Ravenhall Correctional Centre. Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Rachel Hur – For me, it’s about providing a humane space – which is difficult to define because there are so many different views on corrections and there is a certain dogma around what a prison should be.

Amanda Larsson – The environment should cater for the natural variations in people’s personality and mood. The interiors and landscape should cater for everything from large active social groups, to quieter conversation spaces and areas of solitude. The simple act of providing variation in the size of seating groups can create different zones of privacy and interaction that mimics societal norms.

Ben Roberts - I think the research on this topic speaks for itself. We need to change the mentality of prisons as a tool of punishment. How can people be expected to rehabilitate and normalise back into society if we lock them in a hard concrete box?

Alie Kennedy - Making sure that it is not institutional is so important for rehabilitation of the prisoners. I see that giving the prisoners an environment that they can be proud of will generally encourage them to treat it with respect, as well as changing their mood about their environment and themselves and each other. We know that most prisoners have not had the easiest life and a “normal” environment might be the one they have never experienced – which comes back to Kavan’s earlier point about defining what ‘normal’ means. I think we need to do our bit to promote this and contribute to dropping recidivism rates as much as we can. 

Ralph Bailey - If prisoners are treated well and given opportunities, they can develop behaviour management and self-control skills, and can learn vocational skills that will benefit them on their return to society. Treat them poorly and they’re more likely to leave prison angry and with limited skills to obtain work and integrate back into society, which makes recidivism more likely.

Craig Blewitt – I agree, prisoners are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment. The vast majority of prisoners are released back into general society at some point, so it’s important that the conditions inside help prisoners to develop and maintain a normalised routine so that they’re better prepared for release. Simple things such as getting up and going to work or education, taking care of their own health, meals and laundry can play a huge role in helping prisoners transition to normal life once they are released.

Ralph Bailey – Ongoing visitation from family and friends is critical to normalising the life of prisoners. It allows them to maintain and, in many cases, repair the relationships that will support them throughout their sentence and underpin their integration back into society when they’re released.

Amanda Larsson – The landscape environment plays a huge role in destressing this experience for visitors. The approach to the site, and the walk from the carpark to the gatehouse set the tone for the visits experience. The connection between the gatehouse and visits which can often be a sterile and confronting environment, has the opportunity to provide a zone of respite for visitors to decompress after moving through security screening – and we have had the opportunity to embrace this approach in recent projects.

Ben Roberts - Nature and the built environment can drastically change people’s emotions, and there is no reason a prison can’t take advantage of this. If we provide spaces where visitors feel welcome, they’ll come back. If we can provide spaces where prisoners can reflect, learn, grow they must have a better chance when they get back into society.

Rachel Hur – It begins with the architecture of the whole place because it can influence how someone feels and acts in a space. Therefore, being able to inject elements for basic human needs such as access to daylight, fresh air and nature are very fundamental and pretty much a necessity for any sort of design.

Yoshi Seki – I couldn’t agree more, and I think that’s where design can play a big role. Prisons are often a very confrontational place for visitors, so by making the experience for visitors – the gatehouse, security screening and the visits centre – as welcoming as possible, it helps to encourage visitors to return.

Hopkins Correctional Centre.  Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Hopkins Correctional Centre. Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

How do you balance creating a normalised environment with the security and movement control required for a correctional centre?

Ben Roberts - This is the challenge. In part comes down to the architecture and partly the operations. I think we need to rely on both for the best result and not just one or the other. We need architecture that gives prisoners opportunity and need to trust the staff enough to manage this.

Rachel Hur - This is actually quite an interesting design challenge. The security and movement control are obviously a top priority for the safety of everyone in the facility, including staff, but it’s trying to find a creative solution for “normalising” this that’s a good challenge and can be achieved in different ways.

Yoshi Seki – I think the approach generally depends of the security level of the facility as this often determines the level of freedom afforded to prisoners and the approaches we take as designers to normalising the environment. An example would be the selection of finishes to suit different security levels of accommodation. In a minimum-security facility, we’re able to select more domestic style finishes in order to soften and normalise environment. Where dealing with higher security classifications, we need to specify more robust and durable materials, so the challenge becomes making selections that still create a normalised and engaging feel for occupants.

Amanda Larsson – The same consideration for materiality and finishes applies in the landscape design for different security classifications. Our objective is always to ensure enough soft scaping in the form of garden beds and trees make it into the design without compromising safety, but the security level then influences how we achieve that objective. In lower security facilities the experience of the landscape is generally tactile – planting prisoners can touch and interact with. In higher security facilities its more of a visual connection to borrowed landscapes, with the accessible landscape elements becoming more subdued.

Ralph Bailey – The effective segregation and movement controls for different prisoner cohorts can also help to provide normalised environment for all prisoners. By designing correctional facilities to reduce the likelihood of conflicting prisoner groups from coming into direct contact with each other, it helps to create a sense of safety for prisoners. And, this is even more-so when it can be achieved without relying on timetabling to avoid the interactions. When a prisoner feels safe in their environment, they’re more likely to be more social and more willing to participate in rehabilitative and vocational programs and training.

Amanda Larsson – How you go about creating a secure barrier to accommodation communities or a whole facility can have a huge impact on the whether an environment feels normalised or not. While there is always the security reality of needing fences and walls to contain and separate prisoner cohorts, innovative design solutions can break down the visual scale of the barriers. Through varying materials and creating views to landscaped spaces through and beyond the fences and walls, it can decrease the feeling of prisoners feeling enclosed or being ‘caged in’.

Ben Roberts - Technology is providing opportunities for managing prisoner movements, and this is something that will keep improving. Advancements and cost reductions are already allowing surveillance in areas that would have previously put a guard in a dangerous position. I’m sure this will improve further allowing us to stretch correctional design in ways that we couldn’t before.

How close are we getting to creating a truly normalised correctional environment? What areas can we improve on or give more consideration to?

Kavan Applegate - I think we’ve come a reasonable distance toward a normalised environment in some jurisdictions. Hopkins Correctional Centre and Ravenhall Correctional Centre both have open campuses which are approaching the scale and aesthetic of university campuses. Individual buildings still use concrete and blockwork, which is necessary from a construction approach, but there definitely needs to be more focus on reducing the scale of the large accommodation buildings – at least in terms of visual bulk, variation, and colour.

Yoshi Seki - I think the design of cell fit outs and colour schemes still needs more work – this is where many prisoners spend the majority of their time. While the need to minimise ligature points does decrease design options, and the robustness requirements limit the options for materiality, this is an area that will see more development in the coming years.

Rivergum Residential Treatment Centre.  Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Rivergum Residential Treatment Centre. Photography by Scott Burrows Photography.

Craig Blewitt – I think smaller scale projects such as the Rivergum Residential Treatment Centre and Totalspace Design’s redevelopment of the Ruby Unit at Adelaide Women’s Prison have shown how the incorporation of many materials not normally allowed within secure facilities allows the creation of a very domestic feel within quite a secure environment. And, with minimal risk.

Alie Kennedy – These projects have gone a long way to creating a normalised environments for prisoners, but we still have to acknowledge the security overlays of the environment we’re designing means that normalising every aspect of a prison design has limitations – and that inspires us to constantly strive to find ways of getting as close to the normalised environment, within these limitations.

Design differences between American and Australian Correctional Facilities

Brisbane based Associate Craig Blewitt has recently returned from a study tour of the USA, Mexico, UK and Germany. During the tour, Craig visited correctional and court facilities in the USA, supplier factories and showrooms in the US, Mexico and UK; and attended the ISH trade show in Germany.

Written by Craig Blewitt

I recently had the privilege of being invited to join a correctional study tour through the USA, Mexico, UK and Germany. While there were many highlights along the way, the biggest takeaway for me from the trip was the contrast in design of correctional facilities in the USA – not only with what we do here in Australia – but between individual American facilities that are located within a few hours’ drive of each other.

Despite working in the correctional design space for more than a decade, I have to admit that I left Australia with the preconceived notion of American correctional facilities that you see on TV and in movies. I was both pleasantly surprised and greatly shocked by what I saw.

The two correctional centres I visited in the US were both County Jails – which are essentially the equivalent of Australian remand and reception centres.

In the USA, prisoners remanded into custody are typically housed in a correctional centre operated by the local county. If a prisoner is found guilty, they will generally remain in county run facilities if their sentence is less than 12 months.

With over 3,000 counties across the USA, that results in a vast range of different design and operational approaches for correctional facilities – and the two facilities I visited potentially represent the two extremes in design and operational approach.

Las Colinas Women’s Correctional Centre

Photo Source: Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College

Photo Source: Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College

The Las Colinas Detention and Re-entry Facility has a maximum capacity of 1,270 female prisoners and is the primary county jail for women in San Diego County. Of the two facilities I visited, this was closest to the Australian approach to the design of correctional centres.

The facility has an open campus style masterplan, which de-stresses the external environment within the complex. The main street links key support services and stretches from the Gatehouse to the Multi-Faith building at the rear of the site. The accommodation is arranged in communities of different scales and classifications around the perimeter of the site.

The minimum security accommodation is dormitory style where each prisoner has a cubicle with a bed, desk, wardrobe and TV. Similar accommodation styles have recently been tested in the recent rapid-build facilities in NSW with up to 25 inmates per unit.

At Las Colinas there are up to 60 prisoners in each unit, however, rather than housing them in one large room, the accommodation is separated over two levels to provide zones of privacy within the communal space; with a central double height communal living area in the centre.

Photo Source: KMD Architects

Photo Source: KMD Architects

The materials used within the accommodation buildings are simple, yet through thoughtful selection create a sense of warmth and calmness. The timber grain of the joinery units and doors, variation in colour and texture, provision of natural light, domestic style furniture and the use of large scale landscape imagery converts what could be a stark and institutional environment into a relaxed and welcoming space.

Photo Source: Vanir Construction Management, Inc.

Photo Source: Vanir Construction Management, Inc.

In a departure to the ‘on unit’ dining approach used in Australian facilities, the Los Colinas centre used a large central meal hall with scheduled meal times for each accommodation unit. This approach removes the need for transportation of meals across the site, but conversely requires the movement of prisoners to the meal hall, which may pose larger operational challenges.

While the environment of the meal hall facilitates greater communal interaction between inmates, it conversely removes the rehabilitative benefits of normalising daily routines through self-catering units.

Photo Source: Vanir Construction Management, Inc.

Photo Source: Vanir Construction Management, Inc.

During the tour, we stopped at the on-site coffee shop, which is staffed by prisoners and serves both staff and prisoners. Speaking to the barista, we heard an inspiring story of how the design and opportunities provided within the Los Colinas facility created a rehabilitative environment. She spoke about how the program had changed her life – she came into prison not having finished high school and was going to leave in a few weeks with a hospitality management qualification and a goal of setting up her own coffee shop.

East County Detention Centre

Photo Source: Clark Constructions

Photo Source: Clark Constructions

The East County Detention Centre (ECDC) is a high-density multi-level correctional centre located within the downtown area of Indio, California. The design of the ECDC facility has several substantial differences to what we do in Australia, which made the visit to the nearly complete facility quite an eye-opener.

One of the primary differences in the design at ECDC compared to Australian facilities was the density of the accommodation. Once complete, ECDC will house approximately 1500 prisoners within a 3.75-hectare site – which equates to 25sqm of the site per inmate.

By means of comparison, the Metropolitan Remand & Reception Centre in NSW has approx. 115sqm of site area per prisoner and the Ravenhall Correctional Centre in Victoria has approx. 230sqm per prisoner.

The density of the site is achieved through double bunking of all cells, employing a radial design and increasing the height of the cell blocks to eight levels. The compromise to achieve the density of the site is the provision of limited outdoor space and the removal of access to natural light from internal prisoner spaces.

Each of the accommodation towers has four double storey accommodation units (eight storeys in total), each featuring six accommodation pods with 16 bunk bed cells opening onto a dayroom. Rather than having internal service ducts between cells, or an external catwalk around the outside of the building, the design provides a continuous service corridor around the outside of the building – which means none of the cells has an external window.

As the cells are located around the outside of the building, the dayrooms also have no access to natural light or ventilation. They are dim, stark spaces that rely on overhead artificial lighting. The only access to natural light and natural ventilation provided to prisoners is the few hours per week they are allowed into one of the exercise yards. These ‘yards’ have a high-level glimpse of the sky but are otherwise no different to the dayrooms.

Photo Source: HOK

Photo Source: HOK

The other revelation was the system employed for visits. Rather than having a contact visits hall, or even a series of non-contact visits booths, the centre relies on video conference links between visitor booths located off the main foyer, and screens located in the accommodation dayrooms.

While several Australian jurisdictions exploring the idea of higher density, multi-storey accommodation, the compromises to natural light, outdoor space, programs and visits facilities that were made to achieve the accommodation density at ECDC would be a step backwards from the rehabilitative correctional environments that have been developed across Australia in the last few decades.

* Craig attended the correctional study tour as a guest of AVAC Australia.

About the Author

Craig Blewitt is one of our most experienced correctional architects, managing all correctional and justice projects in our Brisbane Studio and assisting on the large correctional projects managed by our Melbourne Studio.