Washington County Jail Mezzanine

Washington County Jail Mezzanine

In the design and operation of detention facilities, a major focus is to ensure the life safety of persons in custody. In Minnesota, Washington County partnered with Wold Architects and Engineers to resolve a facility issue that was discovered to allow hazardous events to occur.

Due to various factors (mental illness, stress, etc.), inmates occasionally attempt to injure themselves while incarcerated. Detention facility design frequently relies on housing pods with cells for inmates on a main level and a mezzanine level overlooking a common dayroom.

One risk for an attempt to self-injure is the mezzanine level’s height over the dayroom where individuals can attempt to jump from. While code only requires a 42” high guardrail at the edge of the mezzanine, that is not high enough to deter an inmate focused on doing harm to themselves. In the early 1990s, Washington County was built with forward-thinking full height “chain link” barriers extending from the mezzanine floor all the way to the ceiling to prevent someone from jumping over, but the chain link did not prevent someone from grasping and climbing on the outside of the chain link barrier. Following an unfortunate incident, Washington County looked to Wold to help design a way to correct this condition.

Wold’s team developed a replacement floor to ceiling barrier in collaboration with the Jail Administration and the Minnesota Department of Corrections Facility Inspections Unit. The solution still provides a floor to ceiling construction which prevents an inmate from jumping off of the mezzanine. However, the lower portion of the new barrier features detention grade plexiglass which is flush mounted to the dayroom. This prevents any handholds or climbability towards the dayroom. Above the 42” high plexiglass is a detention grade wire mesh which extends to the ceiling, making sure there is no access point to jump over. The inclusion of wire mesh allows air and water to pass through, eliminating the need to develop a new HVAC system for the mezzanine level or modify the sprinkler heads. The mesh also allows sound and sightlines to be maintained to avoid detrimentally affecting previous staff supervision abilities.

Following the successful implementation of these improvements in Washington County, several counties in the Twin Cities metropolitan area have decided to partner with Wold to implement a similar solution for their facilities.

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