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Trends in the Design of Correctional Facilities

For over 15 years, Parkin has been at the forefront of advancing new trends in the design of correctional facilities. As a result, we have been asked to highlight our work in a number of publications and to present award-winning designs at national and international conferences.

Today there is improved understanding that a correctional facility is no longer the “end of the line”; rather, it is part of a justice continuum. In addition to dealing with the needs of the incarcerated and the staff, correctional facilities need to address the needs of the judiciary, law enforcement and social agencies, health agencies, and families. Given the strong focus on evidence-based design and research, the form and function of these facilities are being transformed.

Emerging trends in the design of correctional facilities.

1.   Ensuring Appropriate Levels of Security

Provincial detention facilities are meant for those individuals who have been sentenced to less than two years confinement, or for those awaiting trial. Some argue that these facilities need to be built to maximum-security standards due to the fact that the inmates have not yet been sentenced and their threat levels are unknown. Evidence indicates that less than 1% of incarcerated individuals are sentenced to federal maximum-security institutions.

Parkin advocates that the level of security should correspond to the anticipated level of threat posed by an individual. Accepting the fact that most incarcerated individuals respond better to normalized, safe environments rather than dehumanizing harsh environments, would allow a significant decrease in the ”hardness” of a facility and a significant decrease in the capital cost of construction. This would be manifested in greater use of gypsum board walls, wooden institutional cell doors, and school grade locks to which the majority of inmates are given keys.

2.   Building More Pleasant Environments

‘Direct supervision’ is a method of control where the correctional officer is resident in the dayroom with the inmates. Compared to the alternative, in which a security barrier separates the two groups, direct supervision allows officers to take better control of the unit. The result is lower stress levels for inmates and officers as well as fewer assaults.

Indeed, it has been proven that creating more pleasant environments greatly improves living and working conditions for the officers, who spend significantly more time “in jail” than the offenders themselves. Other contributing factors that lead to more normalized environments include large, operable windows, good views to the exterior, and low noise levels. There is also strong evidence that vandalism decreases and human dignity is improved when cells are designed for single occupancy, toilets are ceramic as opposed to steel, and inmates have access to environmental controls within their cells.

3.   Considering Various Populations

There is growing awareness that a large percentage of the prison population is mentally ill. Unfortunately, most prisons are not designed to heal the sick and most officers are not trained to support the sick. There is also a greater understanding that prisons should be designed to reflect the wide range of societal needs regarding issues of gender identity, religious practice, and cultural norms.

Evidence shows that the average length of stay in provincial institutions is less than 50 days. Officers may work in these buildings for decades. An important benefit of creating more humane environments for the inmates is that working conditions for the staff greatly improve. This results in fewer job actions, less stress leave, and more effective stewardship by the officers.

Examples of where these trends have been applied.

  • South West Detention Centre Master Plan: Opened in mid-2014, this Windsor, Ontario maximum-security remand and ‘sentenced’ facility (male/female) employs direct supervision. It has an enhanced workplace environment for the officers, sophisticated electronic integration, and the ability to introduce public use of certain prison facilities. It was
  • New Adult Correctional Facility in Newfoundland Master Plan:  This maximum-security remand and ‘sentenced’ facility planned for St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, will also provide direct supervision, an enhanced workplace environment for the officers, sophisticated electronic integration, as well as ceramic toilets, and a range of environments consistent with various levels of threat.
  • St Lawrence Valley Correctional Treatment Centre: Opened in 2005, this Brockville, Ontario, maximum-security treatment and forensic treatment facility for mentally ill inmates is one of the first in North America to embody the new trends. Features include gypsum board-wall cells, wooden doors, no locks on cells, single room occupancy, sophisticated electronic integration, large cell windows (no bars), ceramic toilets and, typically, no correctional officers on the units.
  • Rankin Inlet Healing Centre: Built in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, this is a medium- and minimum-security facility for sentenced and remanded individuals, that opened in 2013. It employs direct supervision and features gypsum board cells, ceramic toilets, large windows with expansive views, normalized finishes, and excellent acoustics. A unique feature of its daily life is the community interaction that the Inuit culture embraces as a part of the healing process.

Correctional facilities are being transformed from places of punishment to places of confinement in which societal values of human dignity and effective rehabilitation can be achieved. Expected changes that may result from this understanding could include:

  • Greater diversity in types of accommodations to address cultural differences.
  • A “softer” architectural expression where the facility resembles a college dormitory more than that of a prison.
  • Provision of increased vocational training.
  • Greater focus on self-sufficiency, including power, water, sewage treatment, heating/cooling, and food production.
  • Less expensive building materials, more consistent with expected threat levels.
  • Inclusion of spaces that accommodate other justice partners.
  • Inmate electronic tracking and body scanners, similar to those used in airports.


On February 21, 2017 we were awarded the Institutional Master Plan (IMP) Project, in association with CGL, by Correctional Service Canada (CSC). The project will document operation and physical requirement needed to provide effective, humane maximum security incarceration at five federal correction institutions. The trends and evidence-based design solutions explained above will be included in the facility updates.

The facilities:


Editor’s note: this blog was originally published on May 9, 2016 and been updated with new projects. 

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