William ``Ray" Nelson
Chief, Jails Division National Institute of Corrections Boulder, Colorado

Despite lofty claims of advanced practices and standards compliance, there is serious doubt whether most of our nearly 500 new jails will resolve fundamental custody problems that have traditionally plagued American jails. In the United States, it is estimated that 478 local jails (of all shapes, sizes and varieties) are currently pro posed or under construction, at a cost exceeding $3 billion., While there is great variation in the design of these facilities, most have one thing in common: Their proponents claim the jails will be "state of the art," on the "leading edge" or "new generation." Few are inclined to claim credit for building a "past generation" jail.

This discussion attempts to clarify the evolution of various architectural and management concepts that drive construction of new jails, and to understand resulting policy implications and questions. We must question whether certain improvements in architectural and managerial approaches have created new problems or recreated old ones, regarding public policy and the professionalism of jail workers. The spectrum of recent jail construction ranges from those defeating the purposes of surveillance and supervision, to those defeating the professionalism of correctional officers.

We have classified recent jail construction into three major architectural and management categories. Because the objective of architecture is to complement purpose, or in this case to complement the institutions management orientation. a rational classification design requires that architecture and management be related. At the risk of oversimplification, we have identified three currently employed categories of jail design and complementary management styles:

1. Linear/intermittent Surveillance

2. Podular/Remote Surveillance

3. Podular/Direct Supervision

While all new jails have their own unique characteristics. and were not designed according to our simple classification system. this system is nonetheless a useful means of organizing observations and conveying a general concept.

Not-So-Glorious Past

The most common category is what we refer to as the linear/intermittent surveillance model, a design patterned after the jails of our not-so-glorious past. The design is generally rectangular, with corridors leading to either single- or multiple-occupancy cells arranged at right angles to the corridor. With notable exceptions, most of our 18th and 19th century institutions were of the linear/intermittent Surveillance type.

The management of a linear jail is oriented toward intermittent surveillance and supervision. Because jail officers cannot see around corners, they must patrol to see into cells or housing areas. When in a position to observe one cell, they are seldom able to observe others; so, while inmates are not being observed they are essentially unsupervised.

Critical Variables

The critical variables determining the severity of problems associated with the linear/intermittent Surveillance style are patrol frequency and thoroughness, and the aggressiveness of inmates in multiple-occupancy cells. Once a problem is detected, help usually must be summoned to resolve it. The interval between patrols is a management variable not easily controlled, given the exigencies of the jail setting and inmates' influence on patrol frequency.

In a linear/intermittent jail, inmates have the integrals between patrols to make escape preparations, fashion weapons, assault others, etc. Because destruction of fixtures and furnishings also occurs with regularity during unsupervised integrals it is necessary to install expensive vandal-proof housing materials.

In our second category,, the podular/remote sumeillance2 model, inmate housing areas are divided into manageable size units. or pods. In typical units, single occupancy cells are clustered around a common area and a secure control booth from which an officer observes inmate activity.

Return to Prison List

Compliments of Proposition One Committee