The Design of the New Anchorage Jail

The Design of the New Anchorage Jail

Steve Fishback

Fishback, Steve. (Fall 2001). "The Design of the New Anchorage Jail." Alaska Justice Forum 18(3): 4-6. The new Anchorage jail, located adjacent to the Cook Inlet Pretrial Facility, will open in 2002. Steve Fishback, the architect of the new facility, has responded to questions about its design. Design of detention facilities is driven by programmatic needs. The new jail incorporates architectural features which support a "direct supervision" approach to inmate management; among other design innovations are a magistrate's court for arraignments and other process proceedings, a pre-booking lobby, and a separate inebriate drop-off area. The jail will house up to 396 prisoners, with the potential to expand to house an additional 192 prisoners.

The new Anchorage jail will open in 2002. Steve Fishback, the architect of the new facility, has responded to questions about its design.

How do the design and architecture of the new Anchorage jail serve a program philosophy and function?

The design of detention facilities is driven completely by the functional program. The resulting architecture simply must work with and be part of the program philosophy. In the case of the Anchorage jail, the architectural program grew alongside the functional program. More specifically, there are a number of program innovations that will influence how inmates, staff, courts and visitors interface. These points of interface can be sites of negative behavior charged by stressful or emotional conflict. By controlling the location and environment that interface occurs, behavior can be better managed. Examples of how the jail responds to this issue can be found in the visitation process. Rather than moving the inmate from the secure housing environment to a visitation area, the jail's design allows visitors to move to the housing unit by way of a non-secure corridor. The corridor allows visits, professional or private, to occur through a high security glass barrier. The inmate stays securely in the housing unit and the visitor stays in a non-secure corridor.

Another example of in-house prisoner management is the new facility's management philosophy. The principles of "direct supervision" have been in place outside of Alaska for some time, but have not truly been incorporated into any Alaskan adult detention facility. The direct supervision model provides greater contact between staff and prisoners, establishes a mentoring environment and generally allows the inmate more time outside the cell in sanctioned programs. Architecture to support direct supervision was carefully studied to maximize visibility, eliminate unsupervised areas and generally create spaces that are safe for staff and prisoners.

What level of security does the structure present? What levels of custody are maintained for inmates?

Operating as a booking center and pretrial facility, the Anchorage jail will accept defendants who will be charged with a variety of offenses, including violent and destructive crimes. For this reason, the Anchorage jail has been designed and constructed as an extremely high security institution. Since the jail population will include sentenced misdemeanants, as well as individuals charged with serious crimes, the custody structure will range from minimum to close and maximum custody.

This facility has some features not present in the old Sixth Avenue Jail, such as a magistrate's court, a pre-booking lobby, and a separate inebriate drop-off area. Can you discuss the thoughts and ideas behind including these?

One design criterion that came forward very early in the design process was that the facility should become a "one-stop shop." This concept reduces the amount of costly prisoner transport, establishes a central booking area for the region, consolidates staff and resources, and is generally a more efficient approach to inmate care.

The court function within the jail is intended to be used primarily for arraignments and other process proceedings. The court room is not intended to be used for trials. The new jail court's space will allow the current magistrate's space in the Boney Building to be closed after hours, thus reducing security staff costs for the court system.

The functions of prebooking and booking do exist in the Sixth Avenue Jail. However, there is currently no defined area in which to conduct those activities.

The prebook lobby is a weapons-free arresting officer work area that is controlled by way of a pedestrian sallyport. All incoming prisoners enter the prebook area and are detained in a common bench area with restraint capability and holding cells. Sobriety testing and initial medical/psychiatric screening are performed in the prebook area. Injured or heavily intoxicated prisoners may be deferred to offsite facilities. Cubicles are provided for officer write-ups.

Prisoners who have been processed and accepted for booking through the prebook lobby enter the booking area through a secure vestibule where they are searched and property is surrendered and recorded. Prisoners are transferred from Anchorage Police Department or Alaska State Trooper custody to Department of Corrections custody upon entering the secure vestibule. Prisoners are then booked, fingerprinted and photo ID'd, and retained in the booking area.

The Inebriate Transfer Station (ITS) operates under State of Alaska Title 47.37.170, requiring law enforcement intervention with inebriated individuals who are a threat to themselves, but who have not committed a crime. This is a place to "sleep it off." The ITS is operated under the Municipality of Anchorage Safe Cities Program. Though not affiliated with the jail, it is housed on-site. Individuals who become combative are transferred to the jail by escort vehicle. There are no internal corridors connecting the jail and ITS.

What is the basic design of the cells? How many inmates will each cell hold?

Several types and sizes of cells are used in the institution. The majority of the cells are designated for the general population and are designed for occupancy by two prisoners. These eighty-square-foot rooms contain two steel bunks, toilet, lavatory, writing surface and bench. There are two cell pods made up of ninety-square-foot rooms. These cells are equipped similarly to those for the general population, eighty-square-foot cells, but will house individuals who require in-cell lock down time of more than ten hours per day. This added area is an American Correctional Association (ACA) requirement that is associated with the inmate's restricted free time. In both cases, the sparse environment meets all ACA standards and recommendations. In addition, there are single prisoner holding cells for inmates who are difficult to manage. These rooms are smaller and contain penal equipment for one occupant only. Single occupant cells are located in the prebook area, booking area, medical, segregation and maximum security. Again, all cells meet ACA and other standards and recommendations.

Are facility provisions made for inmate exercise? Counseling and religious expression? Education?

There will be a number of inmate programs offered and the design features that support them have been incorporated into the second floor of the building where inmates will spend most of their time. Organization and spacial adjacencies were carefully considered during the programming and design phases to ensure that inmate movement, particularly staff-escorted movement, was kept to a minimum. Education-related spaces in the jail include two libraries, three classrooms and one large, dividable, multi-use room that will be used for religious ceremonies, group counseling, education and other program-based functions. Additionally, there are two testing rooms established for GED or other formal testing, teachers' offices and other supporting spaces.

Inmate exercise occurs within each of the six general population housing pods. Again, this design decision was based on the concept of minimizing escorted inmate movement. Each of the general population exercise rooms are approximately 22 x 42 feet. These rooms have high skylighted ceilings, large windows into day rooms that allow constant monitoring of the exercise area and concrete walls and floors. The rooms are naturally ventilated through large, secure louvers in each activity room. In addition to the active exercise space, there are large multi-use day rooms in each of the seven housing pods that are to be used for passive activities such as studying, reading or other similar activities. Prisoner counseling will take place on several levels and locations. There are various assigned counseling rooms as well as group counseling spaces. These spaces are found on the first floor where initial screening takes place, and on the second floor in the programming area. In addition, counselors will use the small meeting room in each housing pod to hold sessions with prisoners.

Since jails and prisons are notoriously noisy, how did you handle problems of noise levels? Considerations of lighting, particularly providing natural lighting?

The very reason for creating detention facilities is to securely and safely hold individuals who threaten public safety. Unfortunately, in order to securely isolate these individuals, hard, fireproof surfaces must be used. Potential escape routes such as windows must be protected and passageways, such as corridor exits, must be made securable with heavy steel doors. These features that are incorporated into the building to be attack resistant are not friendly to the inhabitants. This dichotomy of physical containment needs versus psychological human needs was a serious challenge for the jail design team. In response, the constructed spaces are day lit through large clerestory and sky lights that are located high in the housing pod ceilings and protected with security grates. The colors selected for the spaces are warm, but neutral, with accents of intense color. The overall impression of the housing pod day rooms and activity spaces is austere, but comfortable. Acoustics have been addressed primarily through the use of sound absorbing ceiling surfaces, acoustic wall panels and furniture. We are anticipating the use of the direct supervision management approach will reduce the noise generated by inmates. This positive result from positive mentoring has been one of the outgrowths of the direct supervision approach when implemented in institutions in other states. The spaces continue to be acoustically live, but comfortable.

How are questions of visitor access addressed by the design? And inmate access to phones?

Access for visitors was an issue brought forward and carefully studied early in the concept design process. It was recognized that inmate movement, out of the housing pods, for such a large population would be very staff intensive with a potential for disruptive behavior. Research trips to facilities in Oregon and Washington where visitors were allowed access through non-secure passages to housing pods provided us with a good model of what was working in other facilities. The ultimate solution in the Anchorage jail is based on the premise that inmates stay in their housing pods and visitors come to them. This is true for professional visits, such as attorney visits, as well as personal visits. The non-contact personal visit solution offers semi-private areas for discussions and private, but non-contact, interview space for professional discussions. The prisoner and visitor are separated by a glazed security barrier that is equipped with speaker ports for communication. Periodic contact visiting is provided on the first floor of the building near the public entry and control room. Visiting for prisoners in medical segregation and those in higher security settings is by way of video visitation from one of the several video visitation stations available to the public. Telephones are available to prisoners in their housing pods.

To what extent did aesthetic considerations, in a broad sense, play a role in the design? How did you address exterior design considerations? The relationship of the building to its site and surroundings?

The very notion of a jail's function within our community, how it should look, whether it should be a prominent building drawing attention, or a reserved building quietly performing its duty, was considered during the early design process. The Municipality of Anchorage spent a great deal of money constructing the building and the designers felt this community expenditure needed to be expressed. Based on this premise, we decided that a sense of quality and longevity would best reflect that expenditure. The building is programmed and designed to function for fifty years.... Society looks at a jail as a necessary, utilitarian component within the community. To respond, we limited the ornamentation and expressed a reserved quality using humble, durable materials that will serve their utilitarian function while maintaining the simple elegance of a hardworking component of the community, simply doing its job day in and day out....

First, the building's height was established by the overlying aircraft approach traffic pattern into Merrill Field. The building area was established in the program, and the building set back from the property lines was established by community zoning requirements. Based on these site parameters, we knew the building would have a very large footprint and that from the pedestrian's vantage point, the building would appear massive. While this perceived scale might be problematic or disconcerting in some areas of Anchorage, it fits in very well with the neighbors on Fourth Avenue. The broad footprint and low height structure present a low profile to Fifth Avenue which is essentially at the roof line of the building....

By their nature, jails have little fenestration. To emphasize the expression of unbroken exterior wall planes, the upper portion of the building's exterior is clad in heavy, horizontally-ribbed metal panels. Again, this rib orientation was selected to reduce the perceived scale, emphasize the plainer aspect of the enclosure and to give the building texture and warmth.

The concrete base of the building is colored a buff tone that slightly warms the natural gray color of local concrete, provides protection against staining, and will ease maintenance. This color is compatible with the existing Cook Inlet Pretrial Facility....

The upper metal portion of the building is zinc-colored aluminum panels that cover the concrete security walls. The metal color was selected for its neutral, but refined, coloration, and the specular quality of the mica particles in the paint coating gives the surface some reflectance and life. The jail borders the urban and industrial zones of the city. The selection of exterior materials was purposefully expressive of this transition and the surrounding businesses. A much different solution would have been warranted in the immediate downtown area.

Are there provisions for expansion of the facility if it becomes necessary?

... Maintaining the building's standard podular design approach, an additional 192 (nominal 200) inmate expansion has been planned to occur on the eastern portion of the site. These additional rooms were indicated on the early design drawings to ensure their compatibility. Utility connections, air systems and even structural connection points have been constructed to accommodate the expansion.

Some of the internal areas that are part of the initial construction have been sized to accommodate the planned expansion. These core facilities include the booking area, food service, laundry, program area, utility plant and the security system. When it is time, the 200-bed addition will be relatively simple and cost effective.

Steve Fishback, AIA, is owner of ECI/Hyer, Inc.