Correctional Facilities as Therapeutic Environments

How the growing incidence of mental health is shaping the design of correctional facilities

norr education series panel discussion event with the canadian academy of architecture for justice

As part of NORR’s Education Series for industry professionals, we hosted a shared panel discussion with the Canadian Academy of Architecture for Justice (CAAJ) to explore the changing role of correctional environments and how design must progress to support new realities.

Correctional facilities and prisons are evolving from places of punishment and retribution to places of treatment, healing and rehabilitation. It is estimated that more than 50% of Canada’s incarcerated population suffers from some form of mental illness. As a result, these facilities are becoming caretakers of mental health.

The panel discussion was moderated by Geoffrey Murray, Senior Project Manager, Infrastructure Ontario. He indicated that there was a clear direction from government for architects to challenge their current thinking, to be innovative and to break through current inertia of designing correctional centers 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 different facilities in three different regions. Despite these differences, there were common themes highlighted including:

  • the benefits of community-based facilities
  • sensitivity to culture and cultural issues on design decisions
  • the premise that good design and programs lead to a positive outcome for all users of the facility

At the South West Detention Centre near Windsor, Ontario, a maximum-security remand facility for men and women, incorporated a dedicated special needs wing in the design to address the requirements for occupants with mental health challenges. “The dedicated mental health special needs wing is an acknowledgement by the ministry of the serious issues facing correctional facilities in managing clients with mental health issues”, said Jonathan Hughes, Executive VP at NORR. From a community perspective, the facility introduced public use of certain parts of the facility including access to cricket and soccer fields in the front lawn park setting and to the multi-purpose gymnasium, located off the public lobby and entrance.

south west detention centre ariel view

South West Detention Centre Ariel View

south west detention centre interior image

South West Detention Centre

Roman Mychajlowcyz Principal, Kleinfeldt Mychajlowycz Architects Inc., highlighted the community aspect of the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton, Ontario. “The competing demands for safety and security combined with the physical and psychological needs of youth, informed the overall vision of a campus that provided a range of normative experiences for all occupants, aligned to the youth justice system and tightly integrated to the community.

In Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, the Rankin Inlet Healing Facility for men was a project where design innovation was used to consider culture, climate and community. Roberta Somlo, an Associate at Parkin Architects Limited provided shocking statistics on the increase in mental health statistics and the impact on correctional facilities, with a focus on northern Canada. “Different cultures have different approaches, but treatment and community are key to how we as architects must evolve our design elements.”

The evolution of correctional facilities is being guided not only by the prevalence of mental health but by the reforms being introduced by the Ontario government. The government 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.

speaker panelists at the norr education series event for industry professionals with caaj