The Cleaner, Greener, and Smarter Jail of the Future - An Interview with Ken Ricci

Ken Ricci

Ken Ricci

The American justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in correctional facilities around the country. When we think of these detention facilities, we think of spaces that are dark, dingy, and very dangerous. Many people held in these facilities are awaiting trial and, therefore, not convicted of a crime. In a quest to design better jails that are not only safer, but more humane, architect Ken Ricci has introduced innovative design to ensure a better experience for those detained and those employed to watch over them.

In this interview, Ken makes the case for why we need humane detention facilities, the design principles critical to creating spaces for the justice system, and the concept of the three-door jail. Ken also discusses the balance between designing for safety and security versus ethical and humane conditions, the importance of understanding mental health when designing justice system facilities, and key elements to designing courtrooms for best possible outcomes.

Ken’s extensive experience has led him to work on justice architecture around the country including courthouses, jails, correctional facilities, and government buildings. Ken is the founding Principal of CGL RicciGreene, and currently serves as the Executive Vice President.

Topics Discussed in Part One: Mentorship under Donald Goff, joining the peace corps, growing up in an Italian-American neighborhood, the use of sunlight in design, changes to how we design jails, the three-door-jail theory, design elements in detention facilities, the importance of officers and detainees feeling safe, impact of direct sightlines, how environment influences behavior in jails, how to implement humane design elements in the workplace, the conditions on Rikers Island

Topics Discussed in Part Two: Creating an environment that is ethical, humane, safe, and secure, the importance of direct supervision, differences in designing facilities for women versus men, designing for motherhood within detention facilities, important design considerations for courthouses, optimal sizes for a detention population, the jail of the future, developing human potential while in correctional facilities

People, Organizations, and Resources Mentioned: Donald Goff, Correctional Association of New York, Pratt Institute, Rikers Island, New Jersey Correctional System, Lloyd McCorkle & Albert Elias, Rob Green Secretary of Corrections in Maryland, American Jail Magazine, “The Jail of the Future”

Find out more about Ken’s perspective on the jail of the future by reading his article “The Jail of the Future”. You can learn more about his company and designing for humane facilities at

“Studies have shown that sunlight speeds healing in hospitals, improves test scores in schools…it improves production in factories and sales in retail. And now, studies have shown that even in an enclosed room, if you have a mural of nature…the blood pressure of the individuals in the room goes down. It’s just something that is built into our human nature.” 

-Ken Ricci on the importance of using sunlight as a key element in design.