How to Consider Environments for Systems Change

Boy standing behind a fence
Boy standing behind a fence

It is not a secret that we need significant changes in our systems of care across our country.  There are no more challenged and neglected systems than our prison systems. They are typically overcrowded, understaffed, and generally not a place where we can claim significant success in rehabilitation.

Yet, in places like facilities for juvenile detention there are so many opportunities to help delinquent youth make significant changes that will set the course for the rest of their lives.

What I have found helpful in our Lakeside programs is to establish facilities that are congruent to the therapeutic processes required by our students. We have made it clear that we are working diligently to help students regulate their emotions, behavior, and brains through interventions that will help. It is essential that they have the correct facility staging for those strategies in order for them to be successful in their growth.

Recently I was extremely encouraged to be contacted by a national architectural organization that designs juvenile detention and criminal justice facilities whose architects were interested in our perspectives and expertise on facilities and interior design. They wanted to be attuned to the neurological research in how they designed their facilities for rehabilitation. I was pleased to be able to give them that information while talking about the potential for facilities designs that would encourage the kind of regulation and strategies that we provide in our programs at Lakeside.

As they joined in the national Teams Meeting, I was able to share with them some basic information on the neurological constructs of the brain and how brain regulation creates emotional balance and equilibrium. I shared the vital nature of trauma and brain-based training that was essential for the staff in these facilities so they could teach students to regulate their brains to make a significant difference in helping those who are detained.

Then we talked through why the architecture and physical environment is so important to setting the stage for areas that would be exclusively designed for those regulation activities. Lastly, I illustrated the specific interventions that could be utilized to help detained youth regulate their brains and bring them to a better place, enabling them to have relationships and reasoning in a healthy way.

I was so impressed that they were inspired to think about these issues. They are exactly the type of professionals who need to be trauma-informed so they can provide the designs for detention centers that will be congruent to the neurological science. They could create places that are calming, regulating and providing environments that are conducive for rehabilitation.

We continue to provide training for professionals in these systems – whether they are the designers or direct service staff, giving them a new lens for trauma and how to process it from a sensory perspective.

This may lead to better results in how these facilities are operated, how they can create more safety and how we can have healthier outcomes in the rehabilitation goals of those who are in the facility.

There is still much to do. However, with these types of enthusiastic professionals we can make good progress to structure trauma-informed environments in each new prison facility.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO

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