The aesthetics of the new San Mateo County jail -- the colors on the walls of community spaces, the sleek furniture, the abundant natural light, and cells that appear more spacious than they are -- are all meant to be uplifting, part of a focus on rehabilitation, Detective Salvador Zuno of the county Sheriff's Office said.
"Our ultimate goal," Mr. Zuno said," is to reduce recidivism in San Mateo County."
The Maple Street Correctional Center, at 1300 Maple St. across the street from the old women's jail and just east of U.S. 101 in Redwood City, is set to take in its first inmates on March 19.
It's been about a decade since a new jail was proposed to address overcrowding and to update incarceration programs. The project came in under the budget of $155 million, but Mr. Zuno said it is too soon to know how much under budget.
The new jail will house all the women inmates, the men with minimum- to medium-security situations, and inmates of both genders who are transitioning back into society, according to the Sheriff's Office.
At around 260,000 square feet and three floors, the new jail has a capacity of 750 inmates but will be starting with 350, Mr. Zuno said.
The aesthetics are less evident in the actual cells, which are painted white and have the same dimensions and facilities as cells in the older and less hospitable main jail in downtown Redwood City. With more ambient light, the cells appear to be larger in the new jail, but they're not, Mr. Zuno said.
"It's still a jail," he said. "Strip away the colors and the ambient lighting and you're left with a secure facility that is a jail. ... A maximum security jail that is going to house minimum security inmates."
Inmates housed in the main jail may sense enough differences to make the new jail a destination. In planning the new facility, county representatives toured the country to see the latest in jail design, Mr. Zuno said. Along with the aesthetic touches, there are other improvements:
■ While face-to-face visits with friends and relatives across a plexiglass window will still be available, video-phone stations will allow more frequent visits with less complicated inmate transportation issues and fewer visitor entry and exit procedures, Mr. Zuno said.
■ A children's waiting room includes tables and chairs and a playful aquatic mural. "Obviously, it can be very difficult to come to a jail and visit a loved one," Mr. Zuno said. "We don't want (children) to be in a room that says, 'Hey, this is a jail.'"
■ Jail designers are shooting for a gold-level designation for the building's environmentally efficient design, Mr. Zuno said. Inmates and staff will be warmed in the winter by floors equipped with radiant heat, for example. A central control room will have access to 200 cameras and control of 700 doors, he said.
■ Corrections officers have a new break area. Officers' shifts are at least 12 hours long and can go as long as 18 hours, "a very long time to be locked up in a facility," Mr. Zuno said. And their work is not just about watching inmates from a distance. Officers must enter each inmate's cell daily and interact so as to pick up on changes in the prisoner's outlook. "Our job is to make sure that every inmate is safe," Mr. Zuno said.
Bad behavior on the part of inmates will result in transfers back to the main jail, Mr. Zuno said.
As with the old women's jail across the street, the new facility has a kitchen where both men and women inmates can learn to cook and prepare for work on the outside.
The TAILS rehabilitation program (Transitioning Animals Into Loving Situations), in which inmates learn to socialize dogs from the Peninsula Humane Society shelter, will be relocated to the new jail. With more space, the program will now be open to women as well as men, the Sheriff's Office statement said.
In the event of an earthquake or other emergency situation, the new jail is designed to operate as an auxiliary communication hub. The building is seismically secure and will have an independent power source and food for several days, Mr. Zuno said.