The Evolution of Corrections & Detention Facilities
From mental health considerations to modular design and delivery, correctional facility design and construction has transformed over time. Join Senior Vice President of STO Building Group, Amy Wincko, as she interviews three corrections construction experts: VP of Ajax Building Company Jay Smith, VP of Layton Construction David Burton, and Construction Manager at Layton Construction Dave Whimpey.
Amy WinckoSenior Vice President, STO Building Group
Jay SmithVice President, Ajax Building Company
David BurtonVice President, Layton Construction
David WhimpeyConstruction Manager, Layton Construction
Welcome to Building Conversations, a construction podcast powered by the STO Building Group. On today’s episode, senior vice president of STO Building Group, Amy Wincko interviews, three experts on the detention and corrections construction sector. Join Ajax Building Company’s Jay Smith and Layton Construction’s, David Burton and Dave Whimpey to learn about what makes building correctional facilities and detention centers unique, how the pandemic has impacted design, and what’s next for the sector.
Hi, and welcome to another episode of STO Building Group’s podcast, Building Conversations. My name is Amy Wincko. I’m senior vice president of operational excellence and strategic planning here at STO Building Group and today we’re going to be exploring the corrections facility sector with a handful of experts from across our organization. Here with me today is Jay Smith, vice president of Ajax Building Company, David Burton, vice president of Layton Construction, and Dave Whimpey, construction manager at Layton Construction. Why don’t we start off with a round of introductions? Jay, why don’t we start with you?
Thank you, Amy. Everybody, my name is Jay Smith. I’m vice president of Ajax Building Company, andAjax was founded in 1958 by my grandfather, “Block” Smith, and Ajax works primarily in the Southeastern part of the United States. We worked from North Carolina down to Key West. So, we worked throughout these regions with several different cities, counties, and states, and happy to be here today.
Great. Thanks Jay. David Burton, let’s move to you.
David Burton. I’m vice president with Layton’s justice group. We are based out of Salt Lake City have offices in Nashville, California, Hawaii – pretty much work throughout the United States. I’ve spent 35 years in the corrections industry and now trying to coordinate those efforts with Layton and the STO Building Group.
Great, thanks. And rounding out, Dave?
Hello everybody. I am a construction manager with Layton Construction. I’ve been with or in the industry for 25 years. Five of those years being in the corrections side of the construction field and currently overseeing construction on the new Utah State Correctional Facility.
Wonderful, great. So, as we mentioned, our topic today is corrections facilities and it is a unique sector. So, we wanted to talk about why is it unique when it comes to construction from each of your perspectives? Jay, let’s start with you. What is unique for public justice corrections, construction?
Well, first you think of the client that is going to be in these facilities. So that makes it unique from the start. So planning, design, and construction starts there from day one. Knowledge of how these facilities need to be run and how each of these cells is going to be used is something that’s really, really unique. And having an experienced construction manager, general contractor is really tremendous to bring those lessons learned to the table. But one of the unique parts of this industry that I’d like to focus on is kind of the vendors. The vendors in this industry really have a tremendous impact on the success of a project. Cells are being designed and built more and more in a pre-manufactured setting. So, having the relationship with the cells manufacturers, either a concrete or a steel prefab system, is really important. And then there’s the detention equipment contractors that are setting these things in place and also the security equipment vendors. So again, there’s vendors throughout the country, but it’s a very, very small network and fraternity. And having that relationship is tremendous when you hire a contractor that they have that experience and those relationships.
Great. David Burton, what about the design side and design team? What about your perspective on selection of the design team?
Similar to Jay’s description in the design field, there’s a select group of national design firms that have focused justice groups that work across the country. It’s critical to communicate with these agencies. So much of our industry is relationship driven and these design firms, their focused justice groups work across the country. Geographically, the justice market is enormous and sometimes overwhelming. Just about every city county state needs a new facility and trying to keep up with that market is crucial. And these design firms have offices all over the country. We’re able to communicate with them, help build the relationships that we need. And, you know, often with those cities and states, they’re still looking for local participation. So, the national firms are in the same position we are in, trying to develop local relationships and we can often help each other to get the key members to the team they’ll take to be successful on all the projects no matter where they’re located.
Okay, great. Thank you for that. So as construction experts in this sector, what are some of those elements that impact an owner’s approach for the design and construction of a detention correctional facility? Jay, you had mentioned in your opening remarks about understanding from the owner’s side and the operational. So, what are those drivers and have you seen those owner drivers evolve over time?
Yes, as we were talking about earlier, the vendor market and how that’s changed the design aspect. So, for years, jails were built either as a CMU or a formed concrete standard. So, it’s a hardened facility as Dave was just talking about, but that concept is become more and more difficult because of the labor shortage and all of construction. But specifically, when you’re trying to put up a massive, hardened facility, the shift is now towards more of a modular design, modular delivery. So, we’re trying to take the labor out of the field and it’s put as much of the labor in a manufactured setting. So, we can get those cells in a very quality fashion and then have them dropped on the site and put in place while all the MEP systems are already installed. So that’s kind of a major shift in the corrections world.
One other thing that I might add to that, just in addition to what Jay and David stated was, this type of construction is hardened construction. And so when we start thinking about that in elements of life safety, lessons learned, it’s not like a typical construction project where you can easily jump in and modify things and change it once you move along and get to a certain point in the construction phase of these types of projects. And so one of the things that I feel is critically important is just the lessons learned and being able to share that, whether it be from life safety and egress types of requirements, and then just purely the hardened construction type that it is, you’re prohibited in many ways of doing things like you would on a typical project. So that’s unique to this type of construction as well.
Okay. And David Burton, how does it relate to the behavioral and mental health for these facilities?
Just about every city, state, county is having issues these days because between boomers and the opioid epidemic, there’s a lot of healthcare requirements, older inmates that require healthcare. The opioid epidemic is creating a need for a lot of mental health space. And the facilities these days are finding themselves on that type of bed. And just the flexibility of space that’s required to keep up with today’s population between those two markets is causing grief with design of future facilities.
Dave Whimpey, in regard to the vendors provided are limited, it seems there’s more design assist in this area. Is that right?
Yeah, that’s absolutely correct with a limitation in the number of vendors and specialty contractors on corrections projects. It’s one thing that helps the owners achieve competition in the bid market is to look at these vendors early on and bringing them on in major areas as design assist partners in the project. And so that adds a lot of value to the project, helping the design team with just design reviews and also following market trends and all the current information that they have, they’re able to share that. And so, partnering with them in the design assist criteria is really helpful to these projects as they come along.
Okay, great. So, Ajax, Layton – part of the STO Building Group family, and what have you seen or will continue to see as benefits of working within this sector under the STO Building Group platform? David Burton, do you have some comments?
Absolutely. The buying power has been great for all firms within the STO Building Group, between Layton’s Utah State Prison and Ajax’s Lake Facility and a few others in Florida. We have over a billion dollars in justice market under contract at this time. So, certainly keeps the interest up with the restricted number of subcontractors and vendors as Jay and David both spoke about. So just that buying power, that continued relationship, we’re constantly in communication with what is a small world of corrections contractors, vendors, suppliers. So, there’s a big benefit in being with STO Building Group.
Okay. What about for you, Dave Whimpey? What are some of the benefits to the STO Building Group platform that you see?
You know, I think just building more off of what David Burton stated, and that is just the shared resources. So, there’s really not a part of the country that we can’t reach into. And even outside of the country. With these relationships that we have as a building team, we’re able to share resources that we have, not only manpower and things like that, but knowledge. We’re able to share trends in the market and things that we see occurring in one market sector or region and share that across our companies. And that is a benefit as well as these projects come to life.
Okay, and I could see the sharing of lessons learned and trends from one group to the next would be high value as well. Jay, what about from a geographic perspective?
Immediately with Layton’s office in Tennessee, it opened that opportunity for the two of us to come together. Being in the Southeast, having the vendor relationships and that market, that’s a natural place that we’ve started working together and working with clients in that area to assist them. It’s a great opportunity in the state of Tennessee. And then with Texas being such a large area, and a growth state, we have Structure Tone Southwest, which has been in Texas for several years and they have built an excellent reputation, but primarily in the private sector. So, with Layton and Ajax, this experience in the corrections detention world, judicial world, we’re able to come and work together with their relationships, local subcontractor relationships, their manpower in place. It’s a natural spot for all of us to combine for all three of our teams and building upon what David and Dave just indicated, you know, a great opportunity for my team is to go out to Utah and see the facility that Dave Whimpey and his team are building right now. So, we can go out there and see what Utah is doing specifically, so we can take those lessons learned, bring them back to the Southeast and talk about that. And so, we are just now really putting our arms around how the two of us are really maximizing the strengths of both firms. So it’s been great.
Great. So, with that collaboration on these type of projects, have there been efforts, Jay, on, you know, vendors. You’ve mentioned some specific kinds of vendors and niche areas. What about collaboration on that side?
We have a call every other week as a group. Amy, you’re part of that team call that we do and coordination with each other. We’re learning, we have a lot of shared relationships, but there’s also a lot of relationships that were unique to our geographic market. And those vendors are interested in going either east or west. And so, David Burton and I have been sharing information, we’re doing those calls with those individuals and for example, my team just flew up to the Dakotas to see one of the plants with a relationship that Layton and David Burton has to really see some unique things that are being done. And again, that relationship and then introduction from Layton really opened that door. So that’s just a great example of an immediate impact. You know, we have two major facilities that are about to be bid and so getting out ahead and getting new vendors to the table, it just adds value to our clients.
Great. And David Burton, what about the same kind of collaboration, but with design teams?
Oh, absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, the national firms that have the focused justice market groups, they still work in multiple offices and each of us, we all do in every company and vendor we work with, have our go-to connection. And what we found is with these national firms, you know, I’ve got my go-to guys, well, they might not be the same guys that Jay uses as his go-tos. So, we’ve actually been able to strengthen our relationship with these national firms by exchanging information, helping improve leads by things that we’ll hear from each of our contacts and share with each other. And then there’s small local firms. There’s a couple of jobs that we’re chasing up in Idaho and the Washington area that were straight up leads from Jay. That is a firm that he was working with in the Florida market. And they just happened to work up in those areas. And we put them in contact with our Boise office and we’re chasing projects that were leads directly from Jay’s introduction.
That’s fantastic. Hopefully they’ll lead to big wins as well. David Whimpey, switching courses a little bit in regards to COVID. So, has COVID-19 impacted the owners’ and designers’ approach to these types of facilities? I mean, we hear about it frequently in other markets, but are you seeing that? And if you are, what kind of impacts are being affected?
Sure. First of all, I think all of us have been affected by COVID-19 and we’ve all learned different things that have been able to get us through it. One of those items is just technology and as technology continues to advance the ability to do or introduce more video visitation, telehealth, virtual medicine, I think that will continue to grow and be even more widely used because it reduces the resources and time for officers to transport and move inmates. And so, I think probably one of the greatest benefits that I’ve seen coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic is just the use of the technology and understanding that we truly can use technology more so than we did prior to the pandemic. And so, I think that’s been something that’s been beneficial and that we’ll continue to see even more used in the industry.
Yeah. Great. David Burton, anything to add?
Yes. I’ve talked with several sheriffs around the country and these county facilities and smaller facilities, you know, due to COVID, if there was a reason to turn someone out, they did. And of course, the easier population to turn out is the less serious security issue. So, what’s happened in a lot of these places is they’ve found themselves in a disproportionate amount of high security population, which doesn’t allow them to maximize their dorm space. So, where they may have the right bed count, they don’t have the right type of bed counts, and again, because of COVID, to help with their distancing and controlling the crowd or population, they turned out the lesser crimes and now have this disproportionate amount of population. And again, it just causes a problem. So, maximize their dorm space, the low security spaces, and I’ve talked to several counties and city facilities that are having this problem because of COVID.
Interesting. So, I guess we’re nearing the end here. We’ve talked about a variety of different impacts coming together, collaboration, owners. What’s next for the correction sector? What do you say, David Burton? Let’s start with you. Final thoughts on the future here.
Yeah. I think where we’re headed has a lot to do with what I just talked about with the shift in disproportionate high-security population, between the boomer and opioid problem that’s creating a lot of healthcare and mental health issues. I truly think that client’s, owners, agencies, designers, and contractors are going to have to come together and come up with a true best value solution to deliver more flexible space. Because again, the shift with COVID to the higher proportion at a high security facility, which doesn’t let you maximize your open dorm space, maybe you go to eight-man cell, you know, I don’t know what the actual solutions are and what works best, but I think we have to come up with more flexible, secure space that can more easily be used for multiple purposes. You know, max security, mental health, healthcare, we’re going to have to design and build facilities that have more flexibility in their use to give the agencies a consistent population growth use of their complete facility.
Okay. Thank you. David Whimpey, what about your thoughts?
Yeah, sure. I can build off of what David Burton was saying. I think one of the additional items that we’ll continue to see is increases in programming space and in inmate rehabilitation that kind of goes hand in hand with the flexibility that David Burton was talking about. And so, we’re seeing it out on the Utah state correctional project. Just increases in daylighting, more colors and more of a trend towards rehabilitation, which I think will be something that we’ll continue to see more of in the future, along with the advancements in technology and becoming more efficient, you know, operationally for these officers and inmates alike. So, I think we’ll just continue to see more of that trend towards rehab and flexibility.
I was, um, I had the opportunity to tour the Utah prison facility last week, actually. And I mean, it is beautiful. The colors that you’re talking about so I can very much see the rehabilitation psychology, I guess, around the colors and construction and the quality is just top-notch. I mean, really amazing project.
Sure. And in some of the views too, with the daylighting and the windows, it just, you know, I think from a mental health perspective, which is something that’s talked about very often, there’s a lot to help inmates recover and stay mentally healthy.
Not often a prison is described as beautiful! We’ll take it.
From a design and construction perspective. I’ll put it that way. And Jay, what about for you? What your thoughts on what’s next?
We’ve all indicated the change and the change in the marketplace specifically. The vendor relationships are so important because the market is shrinking from the vendor standpoint. And then on the owner’s standpoint, the counties and the state are all facing issues. One, the population percentages has changed a lot over the years. There’s a lot of female population and original facilities were not built with that in mind. And so, a lot of the facilities are having to modernize and expand to take note of that, the security enhancements, it’s getting more and more difficult for counties and states to hire security officers. So, making sure that the design of these facilities is taking that into account so they can use less direct supervision, which is more and more unique and more difficult. And then we’ve talked about it over and over again, it it’s the mental health, the mental behavioral, medical health, every community around the country is facing a mental health issue.
So, what does a county or state do with those inmates when they get into an accounting facility and then on a statewide facility, we’re currently in the design phase of a first of its kind in the Southeast. And first for sure, for the state of Florida, we’re doing a major project with the Florida Department of Corrections on the Lake Mental Health facility. So, it is going to be the first standalone mental health specific facility. So the design is completely different as Dave Whimpey was just talking about. The design and the feel of the facility – that they want it to be different because we need to treat these patients and inmates different than we do with the general population. So it’s really interesting to see it’s exciting to be a part of that project and be a part of Layton’s success of what they’re doing with their new facility in Utah.
So, we can kind of really come together on those lessons learned and help our owners and our clients out with what each state is doing, because everyone’s trying to figure this out. And as David Burton indicated, we’ve got to come together as an industry from the AEC world and the owners’ world to really work together. So, we’re excited. Here in a few weeks, Ajax and Layton, will be working together at the ACA Conference up in Nashville, Tennessee. So, the two of us will both be there for the first time and underneath the shared brand of STO Building Group, Ajax and Layton. So we’re excited to see all of our friends at the conference and to also meet a bunch of new vendors and friends, as well as we continue to grow and expand. And again, we keep saying it, but it’s about adding value. And so that’s what this new team of Ajax and Layton are really providing as a new door being opened.
Excellent. Yeah, the collaboration and partnership that you’ve all been sharing with me, not only today, but in the calls that we have strategically discussing the network, your individual networks and broadening that and education, sharing of vendors, and conferences has really been tremendous to see the internal partnership and the strength of that. And it’s been exciting to see how that has been evolving for STO Building Group. This has been such an interesting conversation with all of you today, and it’s wonderful to hear your insights, not only about the challenges and the thoughts that you have on the corrections facilities, what you’ve seen evolve and where you see this market sector going in the future. So I want to thank you very much for your time today. It’s always a pleasure chatting with you, be healthy and be safe. And I look forward to talking with you again. Thanks everyone.
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