Kern County Justice Facility, California

The new Kern County Justice Facility is a brightly-lit, sprawling containment facility with expanded classrooms and medical spaces, as well as several technological updates.

Affected by the challenges of AB 109 realignment (re-directs sentenced inmates to local jails instead of state prisons), Kern County needed a new Type II (medium-maximum) jail facility to alleviate overcrowding and accommodate extended-stay, state prisoners. Increasing the overall safety and security of the replacement jail incorporated best practices for operations as a primary consideration for the project. Each housing pod was planned to maximize the delivery of services and programs within its control perimeter necessary to reduce inmate movement, safety, and security. The raised control room allows for clear visibility of all housing unit entries, dayroom, cell fronts, and recreation yards.

The $104 million grant from a state bond measure provided the funding to build a 217,174-square-foot facility large enough to house 822 inmates in four separate areas, one reserved for high-risk inmates. In each housing area, there is adjacent space for classrooms and medical treatment, meaning an inmate with a minor injury can be treated in his housing unit instead of being taken to the infirmary. There’s a medical and dental area, and in the infirmary, several cells, including suicide watch cells and “safety cells” for those actively trying to hurt themselves.

Improving the environment for both staff and inmates was a primary consideration, key design elements include introducing natural light into housing, circulation, and core areas; access to outdoor areas (patio dining for staff and increased outdoor recreation for inmates); and careful consideration of material selection, acoustics, and color.

Other key components of the project include a centralized clinic providing initial diagnostic and treatment services, infirmary spaces for medical and mental health services, reception/release and medical administration, central administration, video visitation, physical training facilities, and a central utility plant.