It seems like everyone is conscious of energy usage these days, prison designers included. According to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, local architectural firm HOK Atlanta is designing correctional facilities that feature lower water and energy usage, saving taxpayer dollars and reducing the building's carbon footprint.

HOK's "justice architect," John Eisenlau, told the AJC that energy use is a huge issue in correctional facilities. Nationwide, a handful of design firms are snapping up contracts to revamp prison design, this time with a green hue. Eisenlau's company designs buildings with more insulation, reflective roofs, and many other features in an attempt to create the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified detention facility in Georgia.

Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina made headlines last year not only for housing Bernie Madoff, but also because it was the nation's first LEED-certified correctional facility. Since that time, the correctional industry has made great strides in sustainability. Eisenlau told Correctional News that many major cities are concerned with infrastructure and energy issues and that prison design can plays a huge role in that. 

Rather than focus on retrofitting older buildings, HOK focuses on things the company can do to new prisons, including orientation and water reclamation, eco-friendly construction materials, and even green roofs in some locations. Eisenlau told the AJC that his company uses geothermal systems and engineering systems to save energy and operational costs.

The topic of sustainability is, according to Eisenlau, "in vogue" with decision-makers right now. He told the AJC that this is "a new era for architects to work in this kind of environment," because smart design decreases the bottom line for strapped budgets. 

In addition to concerns about efficiency and cost, HOK tries to make its correctional facilities "good-looking," and less like a "bunker," design choices that gain approval largely because they are presented as less expensive to operate because of "correct" design. According to the AJC, it is not necessary to cut programs for inmates to save money. Instead, prisons need to reconsider the concrete block buildings and inefficient high-rise designs. Changing building design can make a prison "faster and easier to maintain."

LEED certified prisons becoming a hot issue
Design firm works to increase efficiency while cutting costs.