The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday May 19th

Jail seeks humane, sustainable design

The jail might hold up to 87 more inmates than the current structure, but Orange County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier said space is only one of the concerns.

“Rather than say ‘let’s build a big jail because if you build it they’ll come,’ what we’re trying to do is look at what do we need in the jail,” she said.

Pelissier said accompanying social services will help re-integrate inmates into their communities, preventing future jail time.

A criminal justice coordinator will help stakeholders in the Jail Alternatives Work Group divert mentally ill and drug-addicted offenders from detention, she said.

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood said the new facility aims to address inmates’ mental health by incorporating design elements that allow more sunlight. He said 23 percent of current cells are without windows.

Deborah Weissman, a UNC law professor, said limited sensory input within detention facilities can traumatize inmates and even alter brain structure.

She said more space, light and interaction could reduce these effects.

“The more humane the prison will be, the better outcomes we’ll have in terms for rehabilitation and reduction in recidivism,” Weissman said.

Kate Carroll, the mother of a former Orange County inmate with bipolar disorder, said isolation within prisons and jails stunted her son’s ability to readjust to the outside world.

“Instead of getting (mentally ill inmates) medicated properly, or working with them in some way, they just lock them away,” Carroll said.

Jail can be particularly harrowing for new detainees, said a former Orange County inmate who asked to remain anonymous.

“It’s natural for them to become claustrophobic, or when their rights and privileges have been stripped, to think that their whole world’s caved in,” he said.

He said the stretches of gray and white walls can be disorienting.

“After a while, they can’t picture anything outside these walls. And after a while you forget how you even came into the place, or the way out,” he said. “Some new people even go as far as to harm themselves, cut their wrists.”

The new jail’s improved daylighting will help in this regard, said John Nichols, an energy analytics specialist for Moseley Architects — the firm designing the jail.

“Our managing principal has felt very strongly after seeing this in many of our designs that daylight has a very positive impact on both the staff and the inmates,” he said. “It improves day-to-day behavior in inmates.”

Nichols said the new building will likely be more cost-effective and green than the old structure.

“I know that both Moseley and Orange County place a very strong emphasis on being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, so the plan generally speaking is to target strategies that minimize life-cycle cost while also having a payback period of five to seven years,” Nichols said.

He said the company is considering using geothermal heating and cooling, LED lighting and high-performance daylighting elements to reduce consumption.

Around 30 to 40 percent of a typical detention facility’s energy consumption comes from hot water use, which is higher than other Moseley project types, he said.

“We’ll try to use whatever equipment to produce hot water very efficiently,” he said. “But we’ll also try to minimize the amount of hot water needed by looking at all the fixtures like the showers, especially the kitchen equipment.”


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