The Changing Landscape of Criminal Justice: A Look Back and Ahead with Visionary Architect Roger Lichtman
Welcome back to another episode of the 360 Justice podcast, hosted by Joe McKenna. Today, we are joined by Roger Lichtman, Justice Lead, Americas at AECOM. In this episode, Joe and Roger dive deep into Roger’s extensive experience in the criminal justice industry. With over 40 years as an architect in this field, Roger shares his insights on the evolution of justice environments and how the industry has changed over time. He also shares his thoughts on the current state of the justice system and answers the question on everyone’s mind: is the system really working? Stay tuned to hear what Roger has to say about this complex and important topic.
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Roger Lichtman has more than 40 years’ experience in justice architecture, with 23 of those being with his own firm, Lichtman Associates, P.C., in Princeton, NJ. Roger’s experience covers all aspects of justice sector design including architectural programming, needs assessment studies, site selection analyses, master planning, security design and documentation and construction administration for a variety of new construction, as well as for renovation and rehabilitation projects. As an industry thought leader, Roger has been involved with the planning or designing of all types of justice-related facilities totaling an aggregate construction value of well over $10 billion. Clients he has worked with include state, county, and municipal governments throughout the United States. Roger’s many published articles also reflect a forward-thinking principle that elucidates the requisite to create facilities that have a long-term societal impact and benefit the lives of the of all involved with the justice system, voluntarily or involuntarily, and the communities in which they are located.
Joe Mckenna: Hello, everybody and welcome to the 360 Justice podcast. I’m your host Joe McKenna we’re really looking forward to speaking with today’s guest, Roger Lichtman, as many of, you know, Roger is the Senior vice president and justice leader, Americas at a AECOM.
He has more than 40 years of experience in justice architect with 23 of those being with his own firm, Lichtman associates as an industry thought leader. Roger has. been involved with the planning and designing of all types of justice related facilities, totaling an aggregated construction value of well over 30 billion dollars.
His clients include state, county, and municipal governments throughout the U. S. He has published many articles reflecting a forward-thinking principle. And describes the requisite to create facilities that have long term societal impact and benefits the lives of all involved. He is a graduate of the Pratt Institute and Rutgers University, where he earned an MBA.
He is the father of 3 accomplished daughters. Roger has been married to his wife, Andrea, for over 40 years. They divide their time between Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, and Ventnor, New Jersey, a beach community outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey. His pastime activities include being a professional ski instructor with Hunter Mountain in New York State.
Roger, thank you so much for being part of our podcast series. I how’d you get into this world of the corrections market?
Roger Lichtman: Well, first of all, thank you for having me, Joe. I appreciate the opportunity. And that’s a great question that I’m often asked. Many years ago, this wasn’t as popular a field as it is right now. So what happened, though, was that when I graduated architecture school, I always had a social conscience. And my feeling was that despite the fact that I always enjoyed design and had an affinity towards the artistic bend, the issue was that I wanted to do something for society, and I knew I didn’t want to build or design Avant-garde houses for wealthy people, because I felt that that wasn’t enough of input on society.
So that really left me 2 avenues and I call it social architecture and the 2 avenues where I could go into health care, or I could go into detention corrections or justice. So, as a young man getting out, you work on the projects to which you’re doled out. And in those days, we were manually drafting and actually I was involved with both and I enjoyed both. So I would go from the 1st project I worked on, I was a junior on a Maryland prison project for 600 beds and it occurred to me at that point that what I’m doing is designing a entire society here for the betterment of these individuals who are. Incarcerated there, and hopefully they can learn something and then get out and then contribute to society as well.
So I sort of enjoyed that aspect. Plus, you know, when you’re talking in those days, it was multimillion dollars as it is today. And the issue is, is a young guy getting out of school. Where is he going to have the opportunity to work on a project of that magnitude? And it was similar with hospitals as well.
So, since I was in New York, during that period of time, there was a moratorium on certificate of need for hospitals, so it essentially put the kibosh on any new hospital planning or building. So that left me being steered towards the justice end, and I’ve stuck with it ever since and never looked back, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.
Joe Mckenna: And here you are 40 years later, right?
Roger Lichtman: I never would have thought that that would have been the case.
Joe Mckenna: So. Before we get into the real meat of it, maybe for our listeners, we go back to the basics here a little bit. And your thoughts on, what is our mission here and what’s really the difference between a prison and a jail and the uses of each of those?
Roger Lichtman: Well, it’s a simple question on the surface, and in terms of the mission, it can be very complex because although I can give you the definition, and I will, I’m not sure that we as a society, regardless of where we are in any jurisdiction or municipality, can define what the mission of either is, and I think therein lies the morass in which we find ourselves in the confusion in terms of moving forward. So based very basically, the purpose of the jail is twofold when it was originally designed and the twofold purpose is number one, you get arrested, you get taken to jail, you get booked, you get arraigned, and you post bail or bond.
And the idea is that you put that up so that you can ensure that you will come back. For your trial when that trial is called, if you can’t post bond, or if your crime is so heinous that bond is not even given because under the constitution, we’re all innocent until proven and guilty. So then you will be held to ensure the fact that you will be there at your trial.
That’s the 1st purpose of jail is simply to. Get you through the system, let you know what the crime is, and then make sure you show up for trial. The second purpose of jail in most states is that if you are convicted of a misdemeanor, then you can be held in that jail for up to a year to serve your sentence.
And the purpose of that is supposed to be that the deprivation of your freedom is the punishment. However, there are some exceptions here. For example, state of Pennsylvania, where they don’t have county jails. They have county prisons. And the reason for that is because they will also hold for low level felons so that they can hold for up to five years.
Another recent change on that was also in the state of California, coming out of the Supreme Court in terms of when Anthony Kennedy made the deciding ruling that California was in violation of the 8th amendment, which is cruel and unusual punishment that they had to build some 40, 000 beds.
They decided instead of doing that and holding all these people in prison that they would send them back to the county jails so that they could learn some sort of vocational program. The county jails could actually cherry pick their inmates at that point so that they would come back. They teach him a skill so that then they would get out again and hopefully be able to utilize those skills and be a productive member of society. So there’s a case where a county jail holds for 5 years, potentially on the back end. And then there’s other systems. I mean, Rhode Island, Delaware, and they have combined prison jail systems, state systems. Some of the smaller states have that.
Joe Mckenna: Gotcha. Well, you can teach an old dog new tricks. I didn’t know that about Pennsylvania and the Division between jail and prison associated with each of the county.
Roger Lichtman: why Pennsylvania has county prison.
Joe Mckenna: Yeah, exactly. So you got 40 years of experience in that time frame. In your opinion, are we moving from a punitive approach or to a more rehabilitative approach over your time?
Roger Lichtman: Boy, you know what I’ve learned 2 things over 40 years is that anything in life runs on a sign curve and anything in life runs on a bell curve.
Joe Mckenna: Gotcha.
Roger Lichtman: All right. So, in terms of the sign curve. In terms of going from a punitive environment to a rehabilitative environment. When I got into this, the reason that I wanted to do this in the first place was to be able to perpetuate the rehabilitative environment.
Now, as an architect, unfortunately, there’s only so much I can do. And when I graduated architecture school, I thought that with my diploma, and then I got my license. I thought that gave me the edict that I could rule the world. Unfortunately, a couple of years after that, I found out that wasn’t quite true.
And all we can do as architects is create the environment, which will either enhance. Or impede the operations of the jail or the prison. So hopefully what happens is that you work with a great client that is looking for a rehabilitative model so that you can build the type of environment that would be conducive to that type of operation. So we’ve seen it go both ways.
In the 90s when we went through a major prison boom, a lot of conservative states took the attitude that no, you know what we’re just going to warehouse these folks until they’ve served their term. Get them out of the prime incarceration ages and then put them back on the street.
And unfortunately, what we realize now coming into at least the 2000s and the teens, and I think everybody’s on board at this point, whether you’re conservative or whether you’re liberal. What we’ve been doing ain’t working so we have to begin to look at other avenues as to how we can progress the system beyond what it is, which goes back to when we opened Joe and we talked about what is the mission of these places because there is so much confusion in terms of what it is that we’re trying to do in both prisons and jails.
Joe Mckenna: Yeah. Well, fortunately, I am a Temple University graduate and a St. Joseph’s University graduate. So when you got into the discussion of bell curve and the sine and cosine, it didn’t go right over top.
Roger Lichtman: No, and I know that, and I know you’ve got your MBA, so, you know, you’ve taken statistics.
Joe Mckenna: Well, thank you very much. So, in your opinion, is the system currently working? Could you provide an example of reform that does need to take place in today’s market?
Roger Lichtman: Is the system working? I guess the Key performance indicator or KPI That everybody seems to be hanging their hat on now Is the recidivism rate and what the recidivism rate is how many people or what percentage of people who are released return back to prison within three years of their release date. And over history that has been Abysmally poor, and we are not making many changes towards that. So, although there are individual statistics in the incarceration rate right now, and numbers are down, the average daily population of the incarcerated population is down, but is that success? I don’t know. You know, maybe 20 years out when we look back, maybe. We can then determine that it was success. But right now, I don’t think we can. And, the problem is that we are sending people out after serving their term in prison. And again, I need to reiterate that the purpose of the prison is that it is the taking of the freedom that is supposed to be the punishment. You don’t go there in order to be punished and whipped or anything else like that. So it’s your deprivation of freedom that is supposed to be the punishment. So now that you’ve got the potential for these mostly young men, why aren’t we training them to do something so that when they do get out, yeah, they might be off beyond the prime incarceration age, but at least then they can support their family too, or have a family, even for that matter, or be able to be a productive member of society. And I think to some extent, we’re missing the boat on that because a lot of these folks are coming from underprivileged areas as evidence by walking through any jail or prison and as a result, what happens is they perhaps never had the opportunity. They did not graduate high school. They clearly didn’t go to college. And now you’re throwing them back out on the street and expecting him, okay, you’re done. You know, in the old days, it used to be here’s 40 acres and a mule, have at it.
You know, and now we don’t do that. Now we’re lucky if we give them bus fare and go ahead and have at it. And they’re ill equipped to function in society. So what do they do? So they go back to what they knew.
Joe Mckenna: Yeah, exactly. So now I’ve been reading a lot. The term prison labor comes to mind. And I see article after article where, you know, the benefits of prison labor the cons of prison labor. I even read where one state has now decided to raise their prison labor rates up to a dollar an hour. That seems counter cultural to what you’re trying to accomplish.
Roger Lichtman: It is, and this has always been an issue, and the genesis of this is from the 13th Amendment, and it was from abolishing slavery in the United States after the Civil War, and the exception to abolishing slavery was prison labor, because in those days, in the late 1860s it was perfectly okay to take advantage of prison labor, because, of course, it wasn’t the society that we’re living in today, but it Those laws are a holdover.
So as a result, you have situations, for example, in California, which is plagued with forest fires, and they can’t get enough firemen to fight the forest fire. So what they do is they give the opportunity for the Incarcerated inmates that are there for a while to learn how to fight fires and assist the CAL FIRE crews to go out and fight forest fires.
And frankly, I think at this point, CAL FIRE probably couldn’t be successful without all that inmate labor. Yeah, great. And I think they pay him like six bucks an hour, but here’s the killer on that up until about three years ago when these guys got out because they had a record. They couldn’t get a job as a fireman.
So, you know, and here they saved all these communities and everything else and they can’t get a job as a fireman for which they’re trained. It’s insane. So fortunately, that has been overturned and they’re able to do that. So now, let’s go back 6 a day for that type of work is crazy. But now what you’re saying is it’s also California that , is trying to work its way through the legislature, double the wage.
It’s meaningless because I mean, you got wages that they’re paying 26 cents an hour, and a lot of it goes to restitution. You know, some of it goes to canteens so that they can buy snacks and stuff like that. But the issue is, is that for that type of labor. And that type of pay, there’s no motivation, there’s no incentive.
And I’m not sure that there’s enough productive learning going on through history. There have been better examples. The one that comes to mind is Belknap, New Hampshire, where there was a crutch factory next door to the jail. And what they did was they paid the. Detainees in the jail, and I guess they probably at that point, they were post adjudicated to nowadays.
Jail’s hardly old. Anybody who’s post adjudicated because they just don’t have the room. So everybody’s pre trial, but they were paying a minimum wage to work in the crutch factory, which worked out great because then they took the best workers. When they got out of jail and they hired him and that was a reasonable approach.
And I think it’s a reasonable model that could be followed elsewhere. Think about this now. I mean, one of the issues in California is the reason they can’t pay minimum wage is because a lot of the issue is state labor. That what they’re producing, they’re producing furniture. They’re producing crews for landscaping and things like that.
That is a cost avoidance to the state rather than a direct employee. And the cost avoidance is because they don’t have to hire outsiders to do it. So they pay him the low wages. And if they were to raise that to minimum wage, then that would probably raise taxes beyond belief.
So that doesn’t work. But what I do think that there is a possibility for, similar to Belknap, New Hampshire, there’s a great opportunity here for a public private partnership. Because, as you know, in this country, we can’t find enough laborers right now. Any field, you cannot. Find enough labor is trained or untrained, and this would be a great source of labor and you’d kill a couple of birds with one stone because then when these guys got out, they have work experience.
They have skill. They will have been able to pay the restitution beyond the 5 cents of the 26 cents an hour that they earn because they’ll be earning federal minimum wage and they’ll have a skill when they get out. So I don’t think that what we’re doing now is working and it perpetuates the problem and to your point, starting where we started and then going to here, you’re scratching on the surface of the fact in my mind that we have to look at this issue holistically.
It’s not just we look at it, you know, as a prison or a jail separated. And what are we doing there? I think we have to look at it holistically how this all fits into society, how they get there in the 1st place. And what happens when they get out?
Joe Mckenna: I would agree with you that there are a few industries. That are trying to help the system. And one of them comes to mind is the construction industry. There are some very progressive, I’ll say, medium size, smaller size, general contractors throughout the US that are doing that, right? They’re trying to take some of the inmates, giving them some training.
And then when they do come out. They’re hired. There’s no probably no marketplace that I can think of that has more shortages than the construction industry, and it’s hurting, the overall cost of new facilities.
Roger Lichtman: Right. And I think the answer there. Also, is I’ve seen several programs that have been tried and the issue is, is that at one point, California was involved with some of the construction going on early on during the boom.
And the issue is, is that what we wanted to do was to provide a bona fide apprentice program. And of course, at that point in time, the unions were against that, but. What I would suggest at this point is bring the unions on board, let them run the program because we just can’t get enough laborers to to sustain at this point.
So, let’s bring everybody in the owners of the construction firms, the unions, everybody else. Let’s put together a bona fide training program for apprenticeship so that then somebody gets out. They’ve got a skill.
Joe Mckenna: Yeah, I’m sure you’d be open to talking with any of the general contractors, particularly the big ones of the mainstays in the justice marketplace.
Roger Lichtman: I’d love to be involved with designing a program like that.
Joe Mckenna: Oh, perfect. Well, let’s talk about what other thing as we move through this, podcast today, I’d like to get a little bit into design your thoughts on design, how that all comes together, giving given the background that you just provided, talk a little bit about costs and what you see and what the future might be at that end.
But let me ask you one last question before we move on to those. And this might be more appropriate towards the end of the conversation, but what do you see the future of architecture in the justice marketplace given the challenges the system faces, mass incarceration, racial disparity, and also staffing?
Roger Lichtman: You know, so much varies on a state to state basis. And when you’re dealing in the prison systems so much is on the shoulders of the commissioner of corrections in that particular state.
And a lot of these folks, I mean, very talented and some of them move from state to state, but the issue is also that, you could have a very conservative state versus a very liberal state. And the approach is going to be very different. I mean, I remember yeah. When Tom Bradley ran for mayor in, I think it was 1982 against George Magian, and they were on the precipice of basically restructuring the entire California system at that point in time, and it would have been a very different result.
If Tom Bradley hit one, because he would have been a very liberal governor, whereas George Duke Majan was very conservative and what California wound up doing over the next several years, probably the next decade was build warehouses. To hold people as opposed to going ahead and doing something different.
So it doesn’t even vary state by state. It varies administration by administration and who’s in charge at that particular time. So I’m not sure. I mean, I remember, at one point, I think it was Earl Warren was talking about prototypical prisons for the federal government, which essentially they got into.
But what he, the term he used, if you recall, was factories behind fences. Yeah. To try and put everybody to work and make it more work oriented which I think that that’s the direction it has to go. We cannot continue with the status quo, but as you know, also on any given hard problem in this country, it is really difficult to get the inertia going to, to make a change like that.
And it has to happen.
Joe Mckenna: Yeah. I hear you talk a lot about sea level change. That’s the top priority C level change to go about that endeavor.
Roger Lichtman: Well, and the other thing is that all of this costs money it costs a lot of money and you don’t know the result. You’re familiar with what happened in in Los Angeles County we were working there for five years, Los Angeles County runs one of the worst jails in the country, which is men’s central jail and coming out of one of the most liberal counties in the country. Nobody is particularly proud of that, who’s there and everybody wants to change it.
So there was a major program a correctional training facility. It was going to be training and addressing predominantly mental health issues for the detainees and those sentence there simply because mental health is a major component. I think right now we’re up to 35%. Of all those incarcerated have severe mental health deficiencies.
But my point in California is we got to a point that we were ready to start building, ready to tear down Men’s Central and start that whole thing. And what happened was the board voted against. And what I’ve seen in other jurisdictions as well is the perfection becomes the enemy of progress because it’s not perfect. It’s not answering everything that we want Even though it’s answering 90 percent of what we want. We’re not going to do it I can’t spend two billion dollars or two and a half billion dollars of taxpayer money on this Because it’s not going to give us everything we want. So as a result here we are 10 years later And people are still being held in men’s central jail.
Joe Mckenna: Well, that’s a terrific segue when you mentioned costs and mental health, because I think you’ve got some really terrific. Thoughts and ideas on the rising costs in our industry. And I think you’ve mentioned to me, and I think I’ve heard you talk about it several times, you know, historically, jails and prisons have been expensive buildings to build.
You’ve talked about the construction costs really are not doing anything more. And following general inflation and, maybe as you see alternatives to all this, expand upon those thoughts and then maybe finish up with a little bit about your thoughts on P3 and how that particular delivery method might help in this.
Roger Lichtman: Okay, remind me about the P3 afterwards, but here’s the issue we can’t help it as a society because we’re reactive and that’s just the way I think it’s human nature to be reactive. But suppose we looked at the entire issue from a holistic perspective and we took a proactive approach to it.
Suppose we go into some of the targeted. Zip codes where a lot of the crime is coming from and we set up community centers and that when somebody does break the law, what happens is, rather than send them off to jail and hold them in jail or get them into the system right off the bat, which once you’re in, it’s tough to get out of.
Suppose we put up these day reporting centers or alternative sentencing facilities. So that now, okay, you’ve been caught. It’s your 1st time. So now we’re going to help find you a job and then in addition to help find you a job every morning before you go to that job, you got to come here and report in and sign in, then you go off to your job and we’re working with community and employers in the community, which goes back to your P3, but in the community so that your employer and your direct supervisor he’s going to give us a report card on you.
Yeah, and then you’re going to come back at the end of the day, how’d it go, everything else, and then you go back home and you repeat so there’s an alternative lifestyle here of living on the street doing nothing. Then the next step up from that might be maybe there’s some dormitory beds here also and going to the holistic approach, right? I drew a triangle came up with this a couple of years ago. And the 3 points of the triangle are mental illness, homelessness, and the criminal justice system. And because we have been reactive society, we don’t see those three is related and we try and treat one or the other or two out of three.
And I think that for the most part, all three have to be taken together and address it together because homelessness is not a houseless. Issue for the most part. Some of it is. But that’s not the majority of it.
The majority of it is mental illness, including substance abuse. And as a result, if we can’t treat that, then what happens is those folks go out and they commit petty crimes and some of them go out and commit major crimes. So now they’re involved in the criminal justice system and now. They’re in jail, or they’re in prison, and they’re not getting the mental health treatment that they need.
So, those three are tied together, and then with the aftercare, because then when you go out, you go back to the same day reporting center, every morning you come in, same deal, and then I think we could actually make some progress on this entire mess. And, I don’t hesitate to use the term, because unfortunately, It’s a mess right now.
Joe Mckenna: Yeah, I gotcha. So before we get to the P3, let me ask you this. Is the 1 billion jail an anomaly? Is it here to stay? I mean, for projects That come to mind right away are the Los Angeles County courthouse, probably well over a billion dollars.
Roger Lichtman: That’s actually going to be at least 2 courthouses in Los Angeles courthouses,
Joe Mckenna: Fulton County’s new jail facility. The 1 that you mentioned earlier, the Los Angeles County jail replacement project. And of course, possibly San Francisco and what they’ve got going on down there.
Roger Lichtman: Not to mention the four high rise facilities to replace Rikers Island?
Joe Mckenna: Well, thank you very much. I didn’t want to bring this, but you’re exactly right. So is that where we are today?
Roger Lichtman: Yes, that’s exactly where we are today. And unless something changes, that’s where we will be for the foreseeable future.
Joe Mckenna: Boy, a lot would have to change to get it back down under those types of numbers.
Roger Lichtman: Well and what happens, Joe, is that with everybody trying to build that, everybody recognizes that, gee, is this really what we want to do? And again, we’re going back to solving the symptoms. We don’t have to go that way, but it’s the Achilles heel of the political system. Because I want to run for supervisor or I want to run for governor. Let’s say I’m going to run for governor and I know how to solve the criminal justice, homelessness and mental health issues, but it’s going to cost billions. And I need you to pay for the billions and I guarantee it’ll work, but you’re not going to see results for at least 5 to 10 years. Reelect me in 4.
Joe Mckenna: So, in your triangle, 2 of those is the mental health, the health care component to it along with the homeless component to that. Are they the more prominent or driving factors in why you’re seeing costs escalate so much? Yeah, I get the building materials. I get the labor, but.
Roger Lichtman: Well, I think costs in everything are escalating. I mean, in the old days, you could build a single family house for $40 a square foot. Now you’re lucky if you can build a nice single family house for $200 a square foot. So there’s a certain amount of it that’s inflation.
My guess is that the cost of jail construction, or secure construction, has probably come down over the years just because, some of the methodologies have become more sophisticated. When you were with Old Castle, there was a situation there that, I mean you guys were incredibly innovative and that was like the cats meow at the time, you know, to build these precast cells. They were great. We were using them all over the place. And now, we’re using modular steel systems that are much lighter. And as a matter of fact, I remember when we were working in San Mateo, County, California, we compared the steel modular cells versus the concrete, and we were building on Bay mud so the weight became a major factor, right? But the issue is that the reason I think the construction’s actually gotten cheaper is because with the advent and the utilization of the steel modular system, now I can build essentially a warehouse. And put the security in where I need the security rather than having to build the entire building to institutional standards.
Joe Mckenna: Interesting. Well, I didn’t want to let the P3 subject matter go to the wayside, love to have your thoughts on the influence of P3 in corrections. Is it working? I can remember one now, but I think I’ve been reminded that maybe back in the 80s, 90s, some other states tried some of this and it was successful. We’ve gotten away from it. And then talk to us a little bit about how you advise clients when they say, Roger, we’re thinking of P3. What would you say?
Roger Lichtman: Well, let’s go 1 step back from that. Let’s talk delivery methods. All right. Because, the pyramids were built design, bid, build, so.
Joe Mckenna: You’re going back that far.
Roger Lichtman: Yeah, well, you hire an architect, he designs a pyramid. All right. So, then the contractors they bid on it and then the low bid gets it and he’s going ahead and he uses his labor to go ahead and build the pyramid. That’s been around forever. Then in the, I guess it was the 60s, 70s, somebody came up with the notion because what was happening was everybody was getting sick of cost overruns and no control over the cost and everything else. The idea of the master builder architect that really wasn’t working because it was really a lot to do.
And then what happened was somebody came up with the advent of CM construction management. So construction management came in and filled in the gaps so that now the owner had more confidence in terms of meeting the price and everything was going to go the way it wanted to go. The next step further was construction manager at risk, right?
So construction manager at risk now, because what happens is previously he was an advisory role so he could help the owner, but he had no authority. So now he’s going to come in early on work with the architect and at some point in time. Guarantee the price still it’s public sector. So it’s got to go out for open bid, but he has enough confidence in his number and it’s padded enough so that he knows that he can guarantee that price, which is great because now the owner has confidence in the fact that he’s got enough money for the project.
He has confidence that he’s working with the architect one on one. He’s working with the construction manager one on one and everybody for the most part as much as he can in this industry is singing Kumbaya. Yeah. Gotcha. So that worked out pretty well. Then came design build and design build was even one step further.
One step further is that now the architect works for the contractor. So now the owner says this is great. I hire one team. I’m done. I have little to do. The problem with that was it got the architect away from the owner so that now the contractor was in between the architect in the owner and communication wasn’t quite as good.
It can work. But what happened was on the architectural field and architects, for the most part, have not historically been good business people. And as a result, what happened was that now the owner would run a competition and he might put out an RFQ request for qualifications for any number of design build teams.
They would come in, he’ll shortlist to three. And then what they would do is say, okay, fine. Now you’re going to compete for the project and whoever either has the lowest price or however it goes, best value, whatever it is, gets the job. At first, the losing team would get nothing, which meant that the architect was giving away 30 percent , of his work for free.
And I used to scratch my head because this was originally like in the nineties. I’d scratch my head and say, why are architects doing this? But they continued to do it until finally. They woke up and said, we’re not doing this anymore. So then owners had to pay stipends and everything else. And some of the stipends that you see out there, you know, where the architects are putting in a million and a half dollars worth of work and they’re getting paid a $200,000 stipend, just doesn’t make sense.
It’s gotten better at this point in terms of the design build. Because now what’s happening is that they’ll either go progressive design build, which means that now you hire the team. The architect answers to the contractor, but the owner is working with the architect, as well, developing the design. The project was awarded on qualifications, not cost. You get to a certain point, again, but now the design build contractor has to give a guaranteed maximum price still has to bid it out open public bid, but the guaranteed maximum price is there. So the owner has all the benefits. Of all the other methods without having to lay out the stipends, the architect is not working at risk, and it just answers a myriad of issues.
So now, ironically, the only difference between progressive design build and construction manager at risk is that in construction manager at risk, the architect’s contract is assigned to the owner. In progressive design build, same process, the But the architect’s contract is signed to the contractor, and that’s really the only difference.
So either one of those 2, in my opinion, gives the owner, the contractor and the architect the best advantage of each other and of knowledge and cost. So, now let’s add the next layer in. The next layer is the financing. And when you have the financing, usually what happens is that you also have the maintenance or the operations.
So, that now, whoever the financial partner is, is usually the head of the team. The contractor is contracted to that firm, the architect is contracted to the contractor. That is traditionally P3, which is a public private partnership. What happens is at the end of the day is that they will deliver the building and then the owner will go ahead and pay on a monthly basis.
I think it’s for 20 years, whatever it is, until they own. Canada has done this for a long time. The United States does it, but not on vertical construction, mostly on horizontal construction. The best advantage to P3 is if there is a revenue stream, because then the revenue stream is used to go ahead and pay off the debt. Which works best. So if you don’t have that revenue stream, such as courthouses, prisons, jails, so now all you’re doing is kicking the can down the road in terms of debt to the jurisdiction and the taxpayers. So I’m not sure that P3 is the right answer here. Now what Canada does is they do P3 for this type of project, but what they wind up doing is in their plan is within two years, they’ll buy it out completely.
Joe Mckenna: And I’ve heard that the Canadian model brings some extra costs into it versus the U. S. model. So if I summarize what you just said, it sounds like you’re a big proponent of progressive design build.
Roger Lichtman: Or CM at risk.
Joe Mckenna: Or CM at risk. And that gets us away from the age old problem of, I’ve got a three year old budget. Which doesn’t necessarily mesh with what my costs are going to be today and how the two really ever get together was always kind of cloak and dagger.
Roger Lichtman: You know what happens is that the head of public works calls up a buddy of his and says, listen, we’re thinking of building a jail. Can you give me a budget? Well, how many beds? I have figured 300, you know, okay. And how many square feet? I’m not sure. You tell me what’s average square foot, you know, and he says, well, when do you need the numbers? I got my supervisor’s meeting tonight. So the guy pulls the number out of the air and all of a sudden, 3 years later, when they’re contracting for that, that’s the number they’re using.
Joe Mckenna: Yeah, gotcha. Well, I think you and I could probably go on for hours with we’re not going to Boston. I’m afraid, but I don’t think we are, but we could certainly give it a try. So let’s, turn a little bit now towards design, and I’m sure that’s near and dear to your heart. Sure. And how that works within, let’s just say AECOM. You just landed a new client. You start with the basics. And you morph that into, going from planning programming to schematic to design development and how that whole process, at least in your mind, works most efficiently with your clients.
Roger Lichtman: All right, so most efficiently knowledge is power. So my feeling is that this has to be a collaborative effort, especially in a jail project. And a courts project, the users have to be involved. In the 1890s Louis Sullivan, famous architect, coined the term form follows function. And the issue here in these types of projects and also in hospitals and other projects that , are driven through the function, you have to involve the user.
And the program has to be very detailed. How are we getting food to the detainees? Is the food hot? How long does it take from the food to get to the kitchen? How are we preparing that food in the kitchen? When the deliveries come in how many days a week are we getting deliveries of the food?
All that has to be defined before pencil goes down on paper. Now it’s all computer, but you know what I mean. And those people also need to be involved through the entire process. My good friend, colleague Beverly prior once said, there’s no such thing as great architecture. It’s only great clients.
And her point is great because if the client is involved heavily and allows the architect to express themselves, then you’ll have a great project and it’ll come out. But at the end of the day, at the ribbon cutting, what defines success is when that client is more proud of that building than I am.
Joe Mckenna: That’s very interesting. So when you take a look at the design, how does that work with things like resident rehabilitation, creating a safe work environment for the staff and creating a more efficient workplace workplace overall? I mean, they all have to be components. There must be other things that also are a part of that.
Roger Lichtman: Yeah, there are, but it’s hard to talk about that separately, not integrated to what our conversation was 20 minutes ago, in terms of what is it that we’re trying to do, what is the original mission of what we’re trying to do? If we are trying to teach these people something and get them out of here so that they don’t come back, then that environment has to be conducive to that, and similar to places where you’re working right now I know you’re working in Alabama. In the old days the issue was , hey, If everybody in our county doesn’t have air conditioning and color TV, we’re surely not putting it in the prison. Except they lost sight of the fact that they also need people to work there. So now you got irritated workers who don’t want to be there. You got irritated inmates who don’t want to be there. And that is not conducive to a good environment. On either way and that’s where you get inmate on inmate assaults inmate on staff assaults and everything else There’s the old theory too in terms of social psychology that people behave in the manner in which you treat them And it’s been proven, you know So that if you can create a nice light environment where people are respected then they will get along much better staff included.
Joe Mckenna: So now let’s rip the band aid off the sore and get into
Roger Lichtman: Ouch.
Joe Mckenna: Let’s get into the politics of all this. Okay. Let’s face it, building a new prison or jail facility is truly a politically sensitive issue. And elected officials face opposition or backlash from constituents who have varying and different views on criminal justice policy. How do you advise politicians in terms of this? Yeah, a lot of communities may need a new jail, but do they really want to pay for it in the end?
Roger Lichtman: Great question. And when we started Joe, we talked about the difference between prisons and jails and what’s going on in each and my guess is that the general public is clueless about that entire discussion. All they know is that somebody’s in this building and they did something bad and that’s what put them in the building And I don’t want to spend any money on them and there’s this whole issue. Unfortunately, the constitution gets in the way Because everybody who is in that building for the most part is innocent until proven guilty and you want those rights, too Because someday you’ll know somebody, or you may already know somebody or be related to somebody that gets snagged , in the net.
So I think education of the general public right now is paramount. And I don’t see enough of it going on. But in a jurisdiction that I will go into, I think that it is critical, there needs to be a website. The sheriff needs to get on maybe a TV program. On that website, he needs to give a tour of the existing jail to show how bad conditions are, make the point showing that these people are innocent show them how bad the food is, the conditions are, that you wouldn’t want to live like this and everything else.
Then what used to help in the old days, it still does to some extent. I mean, and that’s what set California off, was a violation of the 8th amendment, cruel and unusual punishment. In the old days, used to have tons and tons of jail inmates that used to write letters, send them off to their favorite federal judge, your local judge, or anything else.
And because it’s a violation of their civil rights. It automatically goes to federal. Federal judge gets the letter and looks at it. Sends in an inspector, the inspector comes in and says, yeah, it is a violation, negotiates a consent decree with the jurisdiction, and then they throw up their hands and say, sorry, guys, we have no choice. We have to build. All right. So, I mean, that really is a shield for some politicians at times getting to that point. You can’t be an advocate for it. And I think quite frankly, that’s probably what’s going on in New York right now, because I think New York has had a federal monitor for a long time. And it’s probably getting close to the federal government taking over their jail system.
Joe Mckenna: So, in many cases, it may take several attempts to finally get a jail bond or vote passed. And when it comes to mine, we talked about it not too long ago. I saw a number of projects this election term in November of 2023, not receive the support from the general public. And one of them comes to mind is Spokane County, Washington, and they’ve been at this now for what, several years, many years.
Roger Lichtman: One that’s even better than that in my mind is Jackson County, which is Kansas City. Because Kansas City had a bill to pass and this was on the election ballot. And what it was was a use tax so that anybody who wasn’t a resident of Jackson County that comes in and does work in Jackson County has to pay a wage tax similar to what we have in Philadelphia. But the folks in Jackson County got to vote on this, I think that the politicians did such an ill job of preparing the constituents for what it was.
It failed 75 percent to 25 percent. That money was going to be used to assist with the jail and it was going to be used to assist with a 350 million dollar renovation of their historic courthouse. It wouldn’t have cost the taxpayers a nickel, but they voted it down because what happens is that if you don’t do the pre selling and you don’t do the PR and you don’t have the sheriff walking on the website and everything else showing you around and you’re not getting the flyers in your box, so now you, go to polls on election day and you got a box. It’s about two inches by one inch filled with six point San Seraf type. Then you got a line behind you looking to vote and you read this and all you see that it’s a tax and you say, no way I’m voting it down.
Joe Mckenna: So, in your opinion, what’s the next great thing to come into corrections that’s going to change the model ? Is there anything out there that comes to mind?
Roger Lichtman: That is a wonderful question. And as an architect who is future visioned, I have to maintain being an optimist. And I hope so. My concern is that we continue to address symptoms as opposed to trying to take the holistic approach. If we can take the holistic approach, as we’ve discussed in the last hour or so, I think that then we have a shot at revamping and reinventing the entire detention and justice system.
But until we’re willing to admit that it’s bigger than a new building or the latest and greatest new model for operations. We’re destined to repeat history.
Joe Mckenna: Well, you’ve been a wonderful and terrific guest. Can’t thank you enough.
Roger Lichtman: Thank you, you’ve been a great host, too.
Joe Mckenna: Thank you. I hope you’ve had as much fun as I have. Thank you to everyone for listening to our podcast today with Roger Lichtman. You can find this and other episodes on the standard podcast platforms to include Apple, Google, Stitcher and Spotify or. Please visit us at cglcompanies. com backslash podcasts. If you have any suggestions for topics you want to hear covered this season, or you’re interested in being a future guest on the 360 Justice podcast, email us at podcasts at cglcompanies.com.
Roger, thank you again. It’s been one heck of a fun time in the last hour.
Roger Lichtman: Thank you, Joe. Always a pleasure.
Joe Mckenna: Thank you.