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United Way of Lancaster County


Prison staff visit Las Vegas detention center to garner ideas for upcoming design

The Lancaster County Prison and the site, inset, where its replacement is to be built. (Source: OUL | Lancaster County)

The team planning the Lancaster County Correctional Facility is looking hard at designs and practices elsewhere for concepts that can be adapted and implemented here.

Four Lancaster County Prison staff members recently toured the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas, Warden Cheryl Steberger told the county Prison Board at Thursday’s monthly meeting. One of them, Inmate Services Supervisor Toni Warfel, provided the board a brief summary, calling the visit “extremely eye-opening” and saying she and her colleagues came away full of ideas.

The Clark County center has security features such as molded plastic bunks with no recessed areas underneath; and cell entranceway “interlocks” that allow staff to interact safely with potentially violent inmates. It has negative pressure rooms, which help to control infection: The air handling system keep the air pressure lower than in surrounding areas, so air always flows in rather than out.

Steberger, who was not part of the trip, said she asked the team to make a point of evaluating Clark County’s open booking area.

Open intake areas are an emerging best practice, she said: Incoming inmates are restrained, but await their processing and commitment in a general waiting area, rather than in individual cells, as they do at Lancaster County Prison.

Intake is a multi-step process: Among other things, inmates are searched, their records are verified, and they go through various screenings as needed for medical, mental health and other issues. The Clark County site is laid out so that everything needed at each stage is at hand and efficiently coordinated, tbe warden said. Releases are handled in a separate area.

Steberger said it might be possible to implement some of the ideas at the existing prison on East King Street. Her team and CGL are evaluating the feasibility of doing so.

For the planned correctional facility, of course, the team is starting with more or less a blank slate. CGL and prison staff are well into the process of “programming” the new site — developing the inventory of functions it will house and their associated space needs. That will serve as a basis for the design phase, which is expected to begin this fall.

By then, the county’s architect and engineering team is to be on board. The deadline for firms to apply was April 12; four applications were received. The county has not yet disclosed who they are, but design teams must include at least one of the 15 firms that attended the county’s required pre-bid meeting in March.

Following an initial evaluation, the top three applicants will make public presentations. The county remains on track to make a final selection and have its design team under contract by early July, Steberger said.

Commissioner John Trescot said the team is looking at scheduling another public listening session once the architectural and engineering team has been picked. In the meantime, anyone interested in offering comments and suggestions may do so through the project website,