Team designs prison facility with focus on inmate mental health

The way prisons are designed is changing.

“Our building is quite radical when you look at it. I compare it a bit to a concept car. It’s the concept car and it’s going to be refined throughout the process, ”said JD Zogg, an architecture student at the University of Oklahoma.

He led a 17-student project at the University of Oklahoma to redesign a nearby prison.

“How do we create this prison that actually serves its purpose and creates a better society, because that is the overall purpose, isn’t it?” He explained.

The student team behind “Rebuilding Incarceration” focused on promoting better mental health outcomes for inmates. The project was in an exhibition late last year.

“I just think that architecture is a continuum in the lives of these inmates that can really make a difference,” said Marjorie P. Callahan, professor at the University of Oklahoma Gibbs College of Architecture.

Callahan, a licensed architect, said they focused on many design elements to help with mental health.

“Architecture can really create an atmosphere,” she said.

“Being able to see trees, plants, beautiful landscapes, bring as much natural light into the cells as possible and have access to the outdoors. These are the three things that are our big goals which will hopefully be transferred to the new prison that will be built, ”Zogg added.

An overhaul of the Oklahoma County Jail is something that has been in the works for a long time.

“Our firm has been examining the Oklahoma County Jail for, I can literally say it, decades,” said John Semtner, director of FSB Architects & Engineers.

The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council chose the local company as an infrastructure consultant to solve the jail issues.

Semtner is a professional engineer.

“We have visited several facilities as part of this project and others. We have worked in several. When you walk in, they’re clean, they’re respectful, they’re dignified. When you walk into the Oklahoma County Jail, you just want to go out and take a shower, ”he said.

“We really appreciated a lot of what the university project brought. It fits with a lot of national trends about bringing light into spaces, really trying to create a better environment for people to reform, ”Semtner said.

According to psychologist Apryl Alexander, reform must focus.

“There is now a movement towards a more humane correctional design. We know that many prisons are dingy, they are poorly ventilated, they are not well lit. All of these things impact your brain and how you function in these environments, ”said Alexander, professor of forensic psychology at the University of Denver.

“If you go to facilities in Sweden or Norway, you’ll find that a lot of their correctional facilities, even for young people, are more like community centers. Places that support, nurture, ”she explained.

Alexander said proactively helping detainees would benefit communities.

“About 70 percent of the people in our prisons and prisons will return to our communities. So we want to make sure they’re safe, we want to make sure they’re successful in the community when they come back. We need to support their mental health, ”she said.

The Jail Trust and Oklahoma County Commissioners have approved construction of a new jail. The design is still being created.

The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council’s recommendations include such things as providing mental health treatment, modernizing module design, and providing space for education and others. programs. Elements like this are in keeping with the “Rebuilding Incarceration” concept created by the university team.

“Buildings can’t solve all problems, but they can definitely make problems worse,” Semtner said.

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