The campus is spacious and green, with a grassy amphitheater and palm trees, volleyball nets, even a yoga studio. Inside, the earthy tones continue: abundant natural light, murals of waves crashing into the cliffside. From his second-floor office, Edwin Shroeder reflects on his view: “You don’t get that gut-dropping feeling anymore.”
Shroeder isn’t a professor and the vista isn’t of a liberal arts college. He runs a women’s jail, but one that emphasizes the avant-garde over security guards. “We’re not here to punish,” says Shroeder, which isn’t exactly a line you’d expect from a gatekeeper. But this San Diego County jail, which houses everyone from petty criminals to murderers and was once known for its sickening decrepitude, is at the forefront of a new and, of course, controversial movement in prison design, one that manifests a counterintuitive idea: You could build a lockup so pleasant and thoughtfully devised that inmates would never come back. In fact, they don’t even call it a jail. Welcome to Las Colinas Women’s Detention and Re-entry Facility.