At the Las Colinas Detention and Re-Entry Facility in San Diego County, California, the brightly colored furniture, floor-to-ceiling windows, and wide open spaces might fool visitors into thinking they're touring a modern college campus, rather than a women's prison, and that's no coincidence. The new design, which has replaced a dismal 1960s facility in the same location, was inspired by higher-education campuses. “The intent was to replicate, as much as possible, the demands and responsibilities [inmates] would face out in the community within this particular facility," said Jim Mueller, the principal in charge of the project at KMD Architects.
The old stainless steel furniture has been replaced by chairs of lime-green molded plastic, brightly coloured fabric-covered sofas and pale wooden sleeping bunks. The dining hall, featuring a curved bank of floor-to-ceiling windows, wouldn’t be out of place at a the offices of Google or Yahoo.
Instead of cells, the low-security inmates sleep open dorm-style rooms, divided by low walls. The built-in beds feature IKEA-style under-bed storage drawers and each inmate also gets a small desk. Outside, lawns sweep out from stylish hard-paved patios, and the fronds of palm trees wave overhead.
The prison serves low-security, medium-security, and high-security inmates in three types of housing. The women are first placed according to their risk levels, but through various programs, they can move to less secure levels as their behavior dictates.
Services are housed in separate buildings, and the inmates are escorted by deputies between the dining hall, the medical building, and the recreation and education facility. The Las Colinas prison is at the forefront of this new style of facility and, after a year of operation, the first phase is earning a positive response from inmates and staff.