A Winning Formula for Corrections Excellence

by Balfour Beatty

Designing and constructing correctional facilities is a delicate balancing act between seemingly disparate goals.

Correction clients strive to ensure long-term durability while also considering the critical safety implications of design, materials and construction choices. At the same time, many corrections clients are public entities that prioritize prudent stewardship of taxpayer dollars. As corrections experts with extensive national experience, Balfour Beatty enables clients to strike the perfect balance and maximize every objective, building safe and future-proof facilities that serve our communities for decades to come.

Mission Alignment

Corrections clients trust Balfour Beatty’s decades of experience building successful facilities across the country and our expert knowledge of industry trends gained along the way. By entering the design and preconstruction phase as early as possible, Balfour Beatty’s corrections teams help guide – then align with – each client’s vision for a safe, secure and long-lasting facility that realizes the potential of every dollar through innovative and lean construction methods.

The materials selected for individual cells and common areas, even down to the types of screws and fixtures, can have significant implications on the overall budget and safety for inmates, staff and visitors alike. Understanding the client’s goals at the outset allows Balfour Beatty to provide valuable insight into the design and construction choices that have worked well for other clients.

“The right solution is dictated by the program the client or owner brings forward,” says Dan Ferguson, project executive and one of Balfour Beatty’s foremost corrections experts with more than 36 years of market experience. “If they want a new building that fits the aesthetic of an existing complex or need to prioritize speed-to-market, our team can advise the best materials and lean methods to ensure success.”

Lean Solutions

Prefabricating repeatable elements like pre-cast cell blocks can accelerate project schedules and cuts costs over traditional masonry or grouted steel construction methods. As an additional advantage, prefabricated cells for a multi-story complex can be arranged in vertical sets of two or more units connected by electrical and plumbing utility lines.

These utility lines, known as a “chase” between units, are customizable to the needs of each facility. On many corrections projects, Balfour Beatty teams have given clients greater central control over utilities by implementing preconstructed cells with chase systems. Arranging prefabricated cell blocks in vertical columns also enables rear maintenance access to these critical utility lines, avoiding the potential safety complications of access points within secure areas like inmate cells or day rooms.

“Labor costs typically drive overall construction costs, but prefabrication enables a greater degree of repetition in a facility’s design and construction,” Dan adds. “The more we can streamline the design of utility chases through prefabrication, the more we can help our clients save and often at an accelerated schedule.”

In addition to prefabrication, Balfour Beatty’s corrections teams also leverage the advantage of mock-ups, both for cell structure and layout and systems like camera networks, fencing and perimeter monitoring.

Mock-ups, whether coupled with prefabrication or as a standalone tool, provide opportunities for cost and time savings by providing clients and stakeholders with tangible examples of project solutions. Changes can then be addressed before relevant construction phases begin.

“On many projects, our clients have greatly benefited from seeing mock-ups of cell chases and security systems,” adds Senior Project Manager Josh Henson, who is currently leading the construction of a confidential youth detention center project in the Southeast. “Our clients can then better choose what system will best suit their needs for security, training readiness and ease of updating to meet the facility’s evolving needs.”

Tested by Transition Teams

Understanding, aligning with and implementing a client’s vision for a correctional facility is just the first step. Balfour Beatty’s next ingredient for a successful project is maintaining constant communication and collaboration with the client’s transition team. Complex security systems, utility access and practical usability affect the day-to-day operations of facility staff, so by engaging that staff early and often, our teams help clients avoid costly re-work.

Correctional facility transition teams are typically comprised of corrections officers, commanding officers and other logistical staff familiar with the facility’s processes and daily needs. On the San Diego Youth Transition Campus, a design-build partnership with DLR Group and winner of a 2022 Design-Build Institute of America Merit Award, Balfour Beatty’s engagement with the County of San Diego’s transition team identified a needed change in the facility’s security camera system.

The original project scope stipulated one hundred percent camera coverage, but early reviews of virtual camera angles with the transition team revealed that the county’s detention standards additionally required the ability to identify any face captured on camera at any time.

“High resolution was the key, so we increased the number of cameras and upgraded many of them to higher resolution units,” Dan recalls. “Identifying the program’s needs as early as possible allowed us to work with the client to reduce expenditures elsewhere, mitigating any impact on the overall budget.”

Selecting the Right Partners, Vendors and Materials

Correctional facilities aren’t just a unique type of building. In many ways, their materials and design needs are singular, unshared by any private development that may never need to worry about the weight of certain furniture or anti-ligature features. The field of potential vendors is consequently limited, but Balfour Beatty’s record of national experience has imbued our corrections experts with the industry knowledge to select the right trade partners and vendors for the right projects.

Over decades-long careers, our corrections teams have carefully cultivated trade relationships with experts in detention equipment, security electronics, prefabricated cell systems, safe furniture and more. Each is a niche market within an already niche market of correctional facility suppliers, so each relationship matters even more.

“There can be so few options in this market that clients might wonder if our lasting vendor relationships pigeonhole us into using those suppliers, but it doesn’t,” Dan confirms. “Instead, it gives us invaluable access to subject matter experts for specific products so we can provide our clients with the best possible solutions every time.”

While exploring security electronics options for the San Diego Youth Transition Campus, Dan tapped one such invaluable industry relationship, the owner of a detention products supplier and security system expert.

“This trade partner provided feedback on the advantages and disadvantages of different systems and how they would interact with plumbing controls, camera systems and other security electronics,” Dan recalls. “Their expert insight weighed heavily into the solution the client chose, demonstrating again why our trade relationships and Balfour Beatty’s longevity in this market matter.”

Balfour Beatty also builds relationships with local trade electrical and plumbing trade partners that understand the unique needs of corrections clients.

“Mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) system designs and construction methods are often unique to correctional facilities due to security concerns and the need for safe accessibility away from inmate areas,” Josh adds. “Balfour Beatty identifies the best solutions and leverages local trade partnerships that balance aesthetics, durability, cleanability, security and long-term maintenance.”

Building to Last

Correctional facilities are reflections of their communities’ unique needs, and Balfour Beatty has established a record of success meeting those needs across the nation. Through intentional cultivation of trade and vendor partnerships and passionate project teams, Balfour Beatty delivers facilities that achieve the mission of safety, longevity and careful public stewardship.