Correctional Facilities as Therapeutic Environments

The Canadian Academy of Architecture for Justice (CAAJ) participated in a panel discussion with industry professionals to explore design progression and the changing role of correctional environments to support new realities.

The discussion was moderated by Geoffrey Murray, Senior Project Manager, Infrastructure Ontario. He indicated that there was clear direction from government for architects to challenge their current thinking, to be innovative, and to break through current inertia of designing correctional centres in the same old way. “There is merit in providing hard evidence to support new ideas and design,” said Murray.

Members of the panel provided overviews of three distinctly designed facilities in three different regions. Despite these variations, there were common themes highlighted, including: benefits of community-based facilities, sensitivity to culture and cultural issues in design decisions, and the premise that good design and programs lead to positive outcomes for users of the facility.

Parkin’s Rankin Inlet Healing Facility for men, in Nunavut, is a project where design innovation was used to consider culture, climate and community. Parkin Associate, Roberta Somlo, provided disturbing statistics on the increasing number of inmates having mental health issues, and the impact on correctional facilities, with a focus on northern Canada. “Different cultures have different approaches, but treatment and community are keys to how we as architects must evolve our design elements.”

Geoffrey Murray noted that the evolution of correctional facilities is being guided not only by the prevalence of mental health, but by reforms being introduced by the Ontario government; it is developing an evidence-based security risk assessment tool to support inmate and staff safety that predicts risk of severe and frequent misconduct for the purpose of assigning individual inmates to appropriate security levels (minimum, medium and maximum). A series of re-assessments at various points during incarceration will incentivize inmates to lower their security status through avoiding misconducts and participating in programming.