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3 Most Common Courthouse Security Concerns

by Keith Fentress / August 13, 2015

Today, in the fourth installment in my eight-part series on quantitative measures used in courthouse planning, I am exploring the criterion of courthouse Security – the security features in the courthouse including secured and restricted circulation patterns, prisoner holding areas, and sallyports.

Courthouse Security Hall - Fentress Inc.
Courtroom access corridor shared by prisoners, judges, and the public

 

Common Courthouse Security Risks

I often tour a courthouse with a representative of the law enforcement organization responsible for housing and transporting prisoners in the facility. Based on an analysis of courthouse security using performance metrics, I have found that the three most common security risks in the court facilities we have assessed include:

  • Judges not having a path of restricted circulation from the building entrance to chambers.
  • An inadequate number of prisoner holding cells.
  • Circulation pathways to courtrooms that do not allow for the separation of judges, court personnel, prisoners, jury members, and the public.

The percentages of facilities in our 956-court facility database that are impacted by these deficiencies are presented in the following graph.

Courthouse Security Graph - Fentress Inc.

Our database shows that of the total court facilities that we have assessed to date, 76% (727 facilities) do not provide all judges with a path of restricted circulation from the building entrance to chambers; 71% of the facilities (679 facilities) do not have a prisoner holding cell provided for each criminal courtroom; and 61% of the facilities (583 facilities) do not have circulation patterns to all courtrooms that allow separate access for judges, court personnel, prisoners, jury members, and the public.

Secure circulation may be one of the most important design features of a courthouse, yet it is often the most problematic – particularly in courthouses that are older or historic. I have seen many courthouses with challenging secured circulation patterns for prisoners. A common occurrence is to see prisoners riding on public elevators or walking in shackles up flights of stairs and through public hallways to get to a courtroom. I have also seen less common situations, including walking prisoners through a courthouse attic, across a catwalk, on a fire escape, or even through a judge’s chambers to get to a courtroom. These more “creative” solutions present obvious courthouse security risks and are, unfortunately, required of court and security personnel due to the lack of proper circulation patterns.

In many courthouses, it is often necessary for law enforcement personnel to manually control circulation where secure and separate access cannot be established solely through architectural means. The specific security measures required to accomplish this are most effectively developed on a case-by-case basis through a coordinated effort between courthouse planners and law enforcement staff. As a general rule, the optimal solutions will be a combination of the use of law enforcement staff, architectural design, and electronic controls.

Continuing this discussion next week, I will provide an overview of the Building Condition criterion.

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Tags: Courthouse Security

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Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress is the founder and president of Fentress Incorporated. He has an extensive history of consulting to real property organizations. His skills include organizational development, program evaluation, and business process improvement. He enjoys outdoor pursuits like backpacking, canoeing, and snorkeling.