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Detention and Correctional Facility Standards:

Their Role in Field Inspection, Testing, and Certification

by Vijay Ruikar

When standards developed by ASTM Committee F33 on Detention and Correctional Facilities were used, cost and labor savings were realized in two California Department of Corrections facilities.

A Social Concern

It may surprise you to learn that the United States holds the dubious distinction of having the world’s highest prison population—in 1999, the rate of incarceration in prisons and jails was 1.86 million, or 682 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents (see Table 1). This number is expected to increase to a total of two million by the end of 2001. This presents a major challenge for detention/correctional facilities’ administrators looking to minimize building costs while inmate populations continue to skyrocket. Further aggravating the situation is an increasingly tough public policy on crime and punishment (e.g., the “three strikes and you’re out” types of laws). Prison overcrowding is all too common, emphasizing the need for more detention/correctional facilities.

While it does not help the immense overpopulation problem in the U.S., it is still necessary to separate certain groups of the prison population. Separating women from men, juvenile offenders from adult offenders and mentally ill or handicapped inmates from the general population also exacerbates the urgent need for added facilities.

The solution seems simple—just build more prisons. But with ever-increasing labor, material and engineering costs, building new prison facilities is prohibitively expensive. Proximity to large urban centers is necessary to keep operating costs, such as food and energy, low, and to have fast access to specialists and police forces in emergencies. This not only drives up the costs, it also raises concerns for security, environmentally adverse effects, and concerns about non-compliance with local building codes and ordinances—the latter often being enforceable by law. Without addressing the concerns properly, the safety of the public and prisoners can be seriously compromised.

A Technological Concern

Under such difficult circumstances, it is natural to turn to technology to solve problems. Frequently, but not always, upgrading an existing facility is an economically better proposition compared to building a whole new one. But how can we get a top quality new or rehabilitated facility without some basic standards? Would it not be ideal if the top professionals in facilities design, construction and manufacture of building components sat together and worked out scientifically sound—and democratically acceptable—voluntary consensus standards for answering those questions?

ASTM provides such standards. It enjoys a sterling national and international reputation as a premier body that generates voluntary consensus standards. Since its inception in 1988, ASTM Committee F33 on Detention and Correctional Facilities has been diligently creating standards specifically focused on the needs of detention/correctional facilities. The ASTM F33 committee has published 14 standards (see sidebar), and more are on the way. These standards represent the ultimate in high technology and down-to earth practicality. They are simply the best in the business.

So, how can we use F33’s standards in day-to-day detention/correctional life? Can we use them to upgrade the existing, old buildings and facilities to meet with modern day building codes? How expensive or cumbersome is it to do so? Can we utilize the vast, relatively untapped pool of inmate labor to solve at least some of the problems? Happily, the answer seems to be a resounding “Yes, we can, and we can do so very inexpensively.”

Following are two recent case studies.

Case I—The California Medical Facility (CMF) at Vacaville

Built in 1955, the California Department of Corrections’ 3200 bed, three story, multi-wing California Medical Facility (CMF) was practically devoid of any fire protection measures found in modern buildings, such as fire rated door assemblies, window assemblies, wall systems, sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, exit signs, etc. The California State Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF), inspected the facility and determined that some 180 door assemblies needed to have a 90-minute “positive pressure” fire rating,(1) (per the Uniform Building Code (UBC) Standard 7-2 (1997 edition) in addition to fulfilling its purpose as a security door assembly.

This minimum fire rating was required, because unlike the general public, inmates in confinement can’t freely escape from the facility in the event of a fire. Secondly, the urban area has burgeoned right into the neighborhood of the CMF, making it imperative that the facility must conform to the building code (UBC 1997).

Originally, the plan was to replace all the old door assemblies with properly fire rated ones. Since such replacement assemblies can easily cost $1500 each, the material cost alone was in the range of $270,000. Additional costs included the labor to tear out the old assemblies from their 45 years of embedment in thick concrete walls, the labor required to install the new assemblies, the cost of guards to prevent security breaches, and administrative as well as overhead costs. This could easily catapult the total costs to well beyond a million dollars. Was there a less expensive and less cumbersome way to get fire ratings for the door assemblies?

In search of an answer, the CMF and CDF authorities contacted Intertek Testing Services (ITS), an accredited testing laboratory and certification agency. Using the ASTM F33 standard F 1450, Test Methods for Hollow Metal Swinging Door Assemblies for Detention Facilities, ITS engineers came up with a solution. ASTM F 1450 refers to the fire test standards ASTM E 152, Standard Methods of Fire Tests of Door Assemblies, UL 10 B (UL Standard for Safety for Fire Tests of Door Assemblies) and NFPA 252, Standard Methods of Fire Tests of Door Assemblies. The UBC standard 7-2 (1997) (Fire Tests of Door Assemblies) describes the “positive pressure” fire test, which utilizes the same time-temperature curve for the test furnace as in the standards, ASTM E 152, UL 10 B and NFPA 252. With some modifications, it would be easy to satisfy the requirements of the fire marshal deputies, and ASTM F 1450.
The strategy was to test the worst-case door assemblies as a sample. If they passed, ITS would certify all similar assemblies. The CMF authorities and the fire marshal deputies agreed with this in principle.

At first, an ITS engineer surveyed the facility along with the CMF authorities and CDF fire marshal deputies, and documented the actual state of the door assemblies with photos and drawings. Together, they selected the two worst-case assemblies—one with a sidelight and one without a sidelight. Both had single swing hollow metal doors and doorframes, the origins of which could not be traced. Some hardware was from known manufacturers, but neither the door’s fire rating nor its security rating could be known. Very little design information was available.

The CMF authorities used the engineer’s drawings to manufacture duplicate frames in their maintenance facility with inmate day labor. The selected doors (including the hinges and locks) were removed by taking out the hinge pins, and they were shipped to the ITS lab at Antioch, Calif., with the duplicate doorframes. There, they were reassembled into concrete walls, to replicate the CMF door assemblies as closely as possible. The assemblies were subjected to the 90-minute positive pressure fire tests as specified by ASTM F 1450, which are the same as those stated in the UBC Standard 7-2(1997). The assemblies passed the tests.

Since the worst-case door assemblies passed the actual fire tests, ITS has agreed to label all similar door assemblies at CMF with 90-minute fire rating (positive pressure) labels. This will be accomplished in a post-test field inspection. This will bring the door assemblies in compliance with the UBC-1997; representing a whopping 42-year upgrade jump from 1955.

The total cost of this project (including the pre-test survey and the post-test field inspections) is about $35,000—less than a small fraction of the replacement cost. Needless to say, the authorities from the CMF, as well as the California Department of Corrections are happy. There was no security risk, and no disruption of the day-to-day life at CMF. The overhead costs and administrative costs to get this project done were negligible. On the downside, if the door assemblies had failed, the loss would have been only about $22,000 since the post-test field inspection costs would not be incurred.

Thus the CMF benefited from huge gains with relatively little risk, all because of the expert use of the ASTM F 33 standards and field inspection technique.

Case II—The CDC Inmate Day Labor Factory, Corcoran, Calif.

In a number of detention/correctional facilities, both fire-rated and security-rated door assemblies are sorely needed. As stated above, the market price, as well as the cost of procuring such door assemblies, can be prohibitively high for detention/correctional facilities that already face serious budget crunches. Moreover, relying on sales claims of high quality goods can be full of hazards. Delivery schedules and transportation problems can as easily disrupt rehabilitation projects as they do new construction. Contract disputes can hold up deliveries for months at a time.

Several California detention/correctional facilities also faced the all too familiar problems mentioned above. The CDC therefore, decided to “bite the bullet” and resolve these problems with a dogged determination. They decided to put to work their engineers and inexpensive inmate day labor. At Corcoran, the CDC has an inmate day labor (IDL) factory. When CDC engineers consulted with ITS, the testing agency’s engineers described to them ASTM F33 standards available and how they could be used. The process that evolved through these discussions was as follows.

The CDC/IDL factory trained its inmate workers in good welding and steel fabrication practices through certified instructors qualified by the American Welding Society. Then, their engineers studied the ASTM F 1450 and came up with door designs for testing to the requirements of that test method. After a design review in which ITS engineers found no significant defects, the CDC set up to fabricate the test sample doors and doorframes. In a pre-test inspection, ITS engineers witnessed and documented the test sample door and construction, when the doors and doorframes were actually fabricated at the CDC/IDL facility.

The documented test sample assemblies were subjected to the following tests, all referred from ASTM F 1450:

• Static load test for doors;
• Rack test for doors; and
• Fire test for door assemblies.

The static load test determines the mechanical strength of the door in bending, while the rack test tests the door resistance against a corner point load. Both tests address the strength of a door to withstand attacks in a prison riot situation. The third test was similar to the one done for the CMF—a 90-minute fire test to positive pressure, to UBC Standard 7-2(1997). The same door design passed all three tests with flying colors. The CDC has chosen to wait on the other tests in ASTM F 1450, for the present.

Based on this, ITS has put these products under its Listing and Certification Label service. This means that as long as the CDC/IDL factory (covered under this service) passes four random factory inspections per year, they can produce an unlimited number of listed and labeled doors and doorframes, both duly fire- and security-rated.

The total cost of the tests was about $18,000. The annual certification costs are about $4000. If the CDC/IDL produces 1000 door assemblies in the first year, and all the costs are amortized in the first year, the cost per door assembly works out to be $22.00. This is less than 1.5 percent of the $1500 market price of the door assembly. In each subsequent year, as long as the design of the door and the doorframe remains unchanged, only the annual certification fee of $4000 applies, with any costs associated with certification label printing and per label fee. Assuming that the CDC/IDL produces the same 1000 doors, the certification cost drops down to about $8.00 per door assembly, or 0.5 percent of the $1500 market price of the assembly. By themselves, these costs are impressively low. They will be even lower if the production quantity is higher than 1000 door assemblies per year.

Since inmate labor is used, these doors and doorframes are available to CDC at a small fraction of their market price. The cost of procurement and other administrative costs of dealing with outside contractors, etc., mentioned are virtually eliminated. Having such a factory at their disposal means that the CDC can upgrade/renovate their facilities at their own convenience, hassle-free, without having to depend on outsiders. The value of the convenience is immeasurable.

The intelligent use of ASTM F 33 standards for detention/correctional facilities can result in upgraded facilities at a very small cost. The methodology described previously is technically sound. If used with proper expertise, it has the potential to give the detention/correctional facilities’ administrators years of additional use out of the facilities that would otherwise be discarded as being too expensive to renovate. With many public properties such as military bases in the process of being decommissioned, the potential for inexpensive but technically sound renovation is indeed enormous. //


1 The 90-minute positive pressure rating means a door assembly passed a 90-minute test in which the difference between room pressure and outside ambient pressure is a positive number, when the pressure is measured in the upper area of the room where hot gases have accumulated during a fire.

Copyright 2001, ASTM

Vijay Ruikar is a quality manager for ITS ETL SEMKO in Antioch, Calif. He served as chairman of the ASTM F 33 Committee on Detention and Correctional Facilities, and is an active member of the National Society of Professional Engineers, American Correctional Association, American Jail Association and California Glass Association.

A 627, Specification for Homogeneous Tool-Resisting Steel Bars for Security Applications

A 629, Specification for Tool-Resisting Steel Flat Bars and Shapes for Security Applications

A 750, Specification for Steel Air Ventilating Grille Units for Detention Areas

F 1450, Test Methods for Hollow Metal Swinging Door Assemblies for Detention Facilities

F 1465, Guide forSelection of Operational Security Control Systems

F 1534, Test Method for Determining Changes in Fire-Test-Response Characteristics of Cushioning Materials After Water Leaching

F 1550, Test Method for Determination of Fire-Test-Response Characteristics of Components or Composites of Mattresses or Furniture for Use in Correctional Facilities after Exposure to Vandalism, by Employing a Bench Scale Oxygen Consumption Calorimeter

F 1577, Test Methods for Detention Locks for Swinging Doors

F 1592, Test Methods for Detention Hollow Metal Vision Systems

F 1643, Test Methods for Detention Sliding Door Locking Device Assembly

F 1758, Standard Test Methods for Detention Hinges Used on Detention-Grade Swinging Doors

F 1870, Guide for Selection of Fire Test Methods for the Assessment of Upholstered Furnishings in Detention and Correctional Facilities

F 1915, Test Methods for Glazing for Detention Facilities

F 1916, Specification for Selecting Chain Link Barrier Systems With Coated Chain Link Fence Fabric and Round Posts for Detention Applications