Federal Jails:

Design and Construction Flaws in Los Angeles Facility Are Being Corrected

GGD-91-123: Published: Sep 20, 1991. Publicly Released: Oct 25, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO described the action taken to correct design and construction deficiencies at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles (MDC/LA), focusing on allegations that: (1) the facility's design makes it vulnerable to escape; (2) inappropriate material was used in the housing areas; (3) electrical wiring was inadequately protected against tampering by inmates; and (4) the medical facilities were inappropriate for the type of health care provided at the facility.

GAO found that: (1) most of the design and construction deficiencies existed in MDC/LA segregation unit; (2) the cell walls were made of plaster over steel mesh with steel studs to reduce weight in the upper floors because of local seismic considerations; (3) at least two segregation inmates succeeded in breaching the plaster walls of their cells and entering adjacent cells; (4) since drawings provided to the construction contractor by the design agent called for only standard security steel doors and did not specify a gauge or the extra-heavy-duty designation, the construction contractor installed less sturdy and less costly doors that inmates were able to bend and warp to gain access to the adjacent hallways; (5) inmates in the segregation unit frequently tampered with electrical switches; (6) the Bureau of Prisons is attempting to correct deficiencies by installing metal sheathing to cell walls and ceilings, replacing cell doors with doors of heavier gauge steel, moving electrical switches from inside the cells to the hallways, and installing more secure ceiling light fixtures; (7) the cost of construction correction efforts will be about $251,012; (8) a June 1989 escape by 5 inmates was attributed not to design deficiencies associated with the segregation unit, but to staff and inmate complicity; and (9) the health unit was not used as it was originally designed to be used because budget constraints prevented the delivery of a full health care program.