East Dorm is a 152-bed men’s housing unit at South Idaho Correctional Institution. The unit opened in June 2023. There are no other units like it in Idaho’s correctional system and few others like it in the country.
East Dorm was designed from the ground up to help its residents successfully return to their communities and live as law-abiding citizens. Many of its most important features are things that people on the outside of prison would consider to be normal. And that’s the whole idea – to teach residents how to live in a normal environment so they are prepared for reentry.
East Dorm has big windows, brightly painted walls, attractive flooring, and comfortable sofas. It feels more like a college dorm than a prison made of concrete and steel, the kind of place that hardens people and encourages criminal behavior.
East Dorm is designed to give residents opportunities to develop good habits and learn how to make good decisions. In the dorm’s kitchens, residents plan and prepare their own meals, and clean up after themselves when they’re finished. In the dorm’s laundry rooms, residents wash their own clothes and bedding.
Some residents already know how to do these chores, and their time in East Dorm helps them develop good habits. But many residents are unfamiliar with basic living skills and the lessons they learn are vital to their successful reentry.
East Dorm is also designed to put correctional staff in closer proximity to residents so staff can notice small changes in the residents’ moods and behavior. Instead of focusing solely on enforcing compliance with institutional rules, staff are expected to teach residents how to manage the kinds of daily stress that can trigger substance abuse and criminal behavior.
Now that East Dorm is up and running after years of planning, IDOC will monitor the people who live and work there to determine if the dorm’s innovative design improves their wellbeing.