RicciGreene Planner Takes Holistic Approach to Corrections
By Katherine Alvarez (02/29/2012)

Vital Statistics

Name: Laura Maiello-Reidy

Education: Bachelor’s in social work from Kean University and a master’s in criminal justice from Rutgers University

Field: Correctional Planner

Agency: RicciGreene Associates

Title: Principal

Time Served: Since the firm was founded in 1988

Reading: “The Hunger Games”

Desktop Images: Her new puppy

Family: Husband and one daughter, a recent college graduate

Every time Laura Maiello-Reidy visits a new locale, she selects some indigenous material or symbolic memento to incorporate into her beadwork, crafting a piece of jewelry that will forever remind her of her trip. Similarly, she leaves a bit of herself in each project she works on, doing her best to ensure each correctional facility gives its occupants the chance to succeed.

The associate principal and planner at New York-based RicciGreene Associates is a trained social worker and holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Rutgers University. Although she never dreamed she would end up in architecture, the position has been a great fit, she said.

“I always knew, even when I was in graduate school, that I wanted to do something that was really applied and not something that was one step removed and empirical research,” Maiello-Reidy says.

Her initial first-hand exposure to the correctional system came from working with inmates at an old, outmoded jail during a college internship, where she saw the negative effect the facility had on both inmates and staff. Then while pursuing her doctorate degree, she heard about a job in the justice component of the Ehrenkrantz Group. She was instantly interested in exploring concepts such as incarceration alternatives and least restrictive setting.

“I interviewed with Ken Ricci and I just loved his philosophy,” she explains. “It is very holistic. He said, ‘Our job is not to see how big we can build facilities, but how small they can be.’”

So when Ricci and another associate left in 1988 to form Ricci Associates (now RicciGreene Associates), she went with them.

A RicciGreene motto is: “Operations drive design and mission drives operations.”

Maiello-Reidy recognizes the importance of the planning, research and data information used by decision makers at the state, county or facility level — both in terms of the number of beds required and the nature of the facility in general.

She helps user agencies and owners think hard about the project’s principles — from its philosophical mission to its day-to day-operation — and how those manifest in the design.

“I have seen more of a recognition that we’ve got to have a holistic approach and do more that just build our way out of the problem,” Maiello-Reidy says.

“On the juvenile end specifically,” Maiello-Reidy says, “there is evidence that demonstrates that kids do better when they are in smaller facilities that are treatment-oriented and that are in close proximity to their home community so that they can maintain connections with family, maintain connections with the school system, begin to foster positive community engagement with mentors and faith-based groups and volunteers.

“That’s a move away from juvenile corrections as it used to be, which was kind of mini-prisons — large institutional facilities that are centrally located and bring kids hundreds of miles away from home. The evidence and the best practices are showing that that is not the way to go and we are seeing more of a recognition of that.”

The $27 million Union County Juvenile Justice Center in Linden, N.J., completed in 2008, is an example of the change Maiello-Reidy and RicciGreene Associates hope to effect with proper planning and design.

The original facility, on the top level of a parking garage, was old, outmoded and overcrowded, Maiello-Reidy says. The director of health and human services, which oversaw the facility, hired RicciGreene to complete a juvenile justice needs assessment for the county before the project began.

“We looked at some of the practices and the policies that were impacting the demand for secured detention beds for kids,” Maiello-Reidy says. “We found that there were a lot of issues with movement through the courts, and where that was bottlenecking with long lengths of stays for kids that had already been adjudicated and should have been moved to the state system. But because the state was bottlenecked, these kids were languishing in detention.”

The planning committee, which included representatives from all of the juvenile justice entities, found it could reduce the number of beds required by about 20 percent by changing some of those policies and practices.

“And then there was a strong desire on the part of the county to really create a facility that would do more than just hold kids waiting to go to court, the importance of what we call ‘normative environment,’” Maiello-Reidy says.

To that end, the design incorporates acoustical controls, views of the outside, plenty of day lighting and spaces for families and community volunteers to gather. The center includes four classrooms, a media room with computers, an arts and crafts center, a gymnasium, an outdoor recreational area and four basketball courts attached to the housing units. Approximately 40 percent of the facility is dedicated to programming and services such as educational, counseling, recreational and day-room space.

The facility won an international competition for building effectiveness, where the criteria for effectiveness was whether the project had “an impact from a social standpoint.”

“That was kind of a confirmation that the facility is effective and that it is helping to change kids,” Maiello-Reidy says. “What I found really rewarding is that the facility is teeming with volunteers now, and they do so much with the kids. The kids express desire to change and contribute to their communities. That’s an effective building.”

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