8.11.2008

Jails Can Be Lean, Too

Creating the right floor plan is a critical part of a lean operation. It is the only way to optimize flow and eliminate wasteful movement and transportation.

That is true for a small manufacturing cell as well as for an entire factory. Many people are coming to recognize that it also applies to hospitals.

And it applies to jails.

Actually, that is one application I had never thought about until I attended the recent San Diego regional conference of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence. At the conference, Glen Renfro, the retired director of justice programs for HDR Architecture, described how the firm designs and builds lean jails.

He focused on a jail HDR designed in Collin County, Texas. He commented, “The manufacturing process – it’s no different from the jail. Our raw materials are a little bit different. The ‘product’ gets shipped.”

(By that last statement, he meant that an inmate being held at a county jail ultimately leaves that facility, released to either a state or federal prison, or to the outside world.)

What became clear from Renfro’s presentation was that designing a lean jail involves the same key strategies involved in designing a factory or hospital – primarily creating a cross-functional team that engages in extensive planning to address all issues.

For a jail, this involves everything from the flow of the inmates through a facility during the intake process (which may involve several flows for different categories of inmates) to making sure guards have clear lines of sight in cellblocks.

It also involved designing the facility for possible future expansion. That resulted in a “plug n play” plan for up to six clusters of cells, through which a new cluster could simply be connected to existing systems. (Two clusters were built initially; three more have since been constructed.)

A well-designed lean facility is more productive, meaning it requires less staffing. Renfro said the construction “eliminated 125 positions.” His meaning was a little unclear. Since this was a new facility, eliminated from what? If people were actually laid off, that would be troubling, since that is counter to lean principles. However, if he meant that the new facility required 125 fewer positions than a traditional facility of comparable population, that would be positive.

Do you know of any other types of facilities were lean design makes a difference? What is your experience?

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