Guide to security glass: Light up prisons

…with transparent windows, walls, doors, booths and corridors
By Anna America
May 1, 2005

Learning to navigate the myriad standards for security glazing in prisons and other correctional facilities may seem daunting, but for those fabricators and glaziers who overcome the challenges, it can be a lucrative market.

For good or bad, the number of incarcerated people in the United States continues to grow, thereby requiring more facilities to house prisoners. With a rising emphasis on security in all aspects of society, glass and other glazing products that allow supervision and observation while affording protection and separation will increasingly play a more important role.

Glass improves the environment in correctional facilities from security design and functional standpoints, says Leo Zepeda, project manager for The Glass Shop, Visalia, Calif. Workers at the company have helped build several correctional facilities. They are currently installing all the glazing, both standard and security panes, for the new state-of-the-art Fresno Juvenile Justice Campus.

The prevalence of glass in a correctional facility isn’t always visible from the outside, says Pam Moser, security product manager for Oldcastle Glass in Atlanta. “We notice the long narrow cell windows that tell us it is a prison. What we don’t notice is the rest of the facility.” Security glass creates:

•   Physical containment barriers

•   Unobstructed observation of inmates

•   Open feel to the facility without sacrificing physical safety

•   Natural daylighting.

Security glass can typically be found in the control rooms in the heart of these facilities, day rooms, interview rooms, visitation centers, doors, windows, cell doors, cell windows, corridors and medical and mental health centers.

Zepeda says although security will always be of foremost importance, designers have begun to recognize and use the aesthetic qualities of glass, at least in California correctional facilities. In the Fresno juvenile center, for example, his workers installed 12-by-48-inch windows in each cell to bring in natural light. “There’s a realization that natural light helps people concentrate better and behave better, so it is something they try to incorporate throughout the facility.”

Glass has other practical benefits, Moser adds. Combined with transparent mirror products and fabricated into insulating glass units using low-emissivity glass and reflective coatings, it reduces a facility’s operating costs and meets energy codes.

Bellwether standards

Specifying glass in prisons becomes tricky: each use can have completely different security standards. The glass application may need to withstand physical attack, bullets, fire or all three. The attack could be sudden, fierce or prolonged and steady. It could happen indoors in warmer temperatures or outdoors in cooler temperatures. All of those factors have to be considered when determining what kind of glass should be used where.

Typically, a project’s architect will specify the type and level of security glass required. Even then, there can be confusion about methods to ensure the products chosen meet requirements.

That’s not the case in California, the first state to create comprehensive security-glazing guidelines and still the standard-bearer in the field. The California Department of Corrections began developing security-glazing standards in the early 1980s as a prison construction-building boom was just getting started, says Donald Smith, the state’s chief deputy warden and chief of security for operations and maintenance.

“Projects were being designed with different types of security glazing in virtually the same application and area on different projects largely due to the architect and engineer’s interpretation of the needs,” Smith says. “We began to identify specific areas and functions and the level of security and security glazing to be used for those applications, and realized that manufacturers’ definitions of their security levels of glazing varied significantly, and also their configurations and corresponding thicknesses.” The department also found that industry-testing methods were often inconsistent and unscientific. For example, “determining how resistant glass is to physical attack with a test calling for ‘three grown men of well-developed physique’ to each take a certain number of swings at the glazing with a 10-pound sledge hammer.”

So the CDC developed CDC 860, Standard for Security Glazing Products. It outlines testing standards, definitions of glazing security levels and specific configurations of security glazing. “The type of glazing used—security versus non-security, for instance—depends upon the use of the space, building or room,” Smith says. “We typically use 5-inch-wide security glazing in high-security areas such as inmate housing.”

is the only state to have its own correctional facilities glazing standard and many California architects use the CDC standard as a guide in their specifications. All glass products must be pre-approved by the CDC to be installed in the state’s prison system. Certification must be maintained with regular inspections, testing and manufacturing plant certification by an independent, CDC-approved authority.

Testing standards

Although correctional facility construction in other states may refer to CDC 860 standards on job specs, they generally call for tests such as those done by the ASTM International in West Conshohocken, Pa., and H.P. White Laboratory Inc. in Street, Md., says Richard Trundt, security products manager in Atlanta for Global Security Glazing. The 62-year-old Selma, Ala., company used to operate as Globe Amerada Architectural Glass, and offers glass specification assistance to architects, engineers and security consultants. Workers of the company have installed products in more than 2,060 correctional institutions.

“The performance criteria that have evolved during the past 25 years are intimidating to the casual user,” Trundt says. For forced-entry applications, for example, some facilities may call for a test using five-minute intervals with an indeterminate number of impacts, or the H.P. White test, using a number of blows—for example, 25 impacts with a sledge hammer. At the same time, you have to determine the strength of the individual swinging the hammer. Then, there’s the ASTM F1233 testing and the ASTM F-1915 pendulum type attack test.

Trundt says subcommittees of the ASTM F 33 Committee on Detention and Correctional Facilities is specifically developing glazing test methods to establish a “universal” test-standard procedure. “Once this is done, the need for many of today’s test standards will be eliminated,” he says.

Bidding prison jobs can be further complicated by the fact that at times, architects do not update their specs, meaning, “old, often outdated standards are listed that we have to meet,” Trundt says. “In a perfect world, I would contact these folks prior to bid and get them to change and update, but it doesn’t always happen.” Although a state may have a particular standard for prisons, typically, each county or city jail would go with whatever the architects dictate.

Sometimes, specs can be ambiguous or even directly contradictory, particularly when they call for performance levels and product thickness that don’t match. Furthermore, “the Federal Bureau of Prisons has its own guide specs, too,” Trundt says.

Finite applications, specific products

To meet the imposing variety of standards, Global has products such as Secur-Tem, Secur-Lite X, Secur-Tem + Poly, Inferno-Lite, PowR-Lite LP and PowR-Lite LP/AV—all deemed high-performance institutional glazing products offered for use within correctional facilities, psychiatric hospitals, federal buildings and other hostile environments. And the company has products approved for State of California facilities to meet the CDC-860-95a and preceding test standards.

“Over the years, [companies such as Global] developed new products for many of the new standards that came out, therefore, we now have something like 40 or 50 products each meeting either many or just one standard,” Trundt says. “The new guys, those that have gotten in the game late, were not around to go through all the development and have much shorter—and easier-to-follow—product lists.”

Noting that the most common need for security glass is to resist prolonged physical attack, Moser says, “this is best accomplished using a glass-clad polycarbonate design comprising outer lites of thin glass, a single or multiply polycarbonate core laminated together with aliphatic urethane interlayer.”

Oldcastle Glass, with headquarters in Plano, Texas, recently became an approved supplier of glass for all areas of California detention facilities, including cell windows, doors, day rooms and even control rooms that require the highest level of forced-entry and ballistic protection. Two products—Oldcastle Glass ArmorProtect Plus and ArmorResist Plus—passed the CDC’s tests. Like those from other companies, Oldcastle’s products represent a family of multi-ply laminates combining the scratch resistance and durability of glass with the toughness of one or more core layers of polycarbonate. These polycarbonates are made with an ultra-clear interlayer that delivers impact strength up to 250 times stronger than that of glass, company officials say.

Tapping into the market

Moser says that correctional-facility glazing is “an area of the glass market that has been somewhat overlooked by many glass installers. There are opportunities in the security-glazing market for glass-shop owners [and contract glaziers] to expand their businesses, whether they are interested in new construction, additions and renovations or replacement contracts.”

exemplifies the promise of this market. “There are jail houses everywhere,” Zepeda says. “We know what we are doing in this area and it is a good market. Every chance we have, we bid.”

To his knowledge, the Fresno juvenile facility is the first of its scope where the entire glazing contract was awarded to a local firm.

“Usually, there’s some national company that comes in and gets the jobs and then just hires local people to help with the work,” Zepeda says. “On this job, we’re doing it all: working with the designers, providing the glass and doing the installation.”

For companies wanting to get into the field, even in California, where there are specific standards, Zepeda says it will likely be challenging at first because “each type of glass has a different rating. You need to make sure that whoever is going to manufacture the glass meets the specific requirements.”

Sometimes he says, it might even mean coming up with new technologies or products to meet a specific need. Trundt says that while Global rarely has to develop an entirely new product, it isn’t unusual to modify a product’s color or tint, make it mirrored, translucent, or chemically strengthened. “And, blast products do change fairly frequently to put to use advances in design or performance.”

Smith says few companies really know the ins and outs of security glazing, at least by California standards. “Many manufacturers claim to manufacture security glazing or claim to be security-glazing experts, but only a few have completed our pre-approval process [that consists] of submitting products for testing according to our test procedures to an independent testing lab,” he says. “Once they have completed the testing and submitted the test results to us, we list them as approved vendors and contractors doing CDC work, and our institution maintenance departments use the approved products.”

Zepeda says another part of the market is security glazing for non-prison facilities such as check-cashing centers, banks and other high-risk operations. “Even [operators of] little mini-stores and pharmacies want bullet-resistant windows.” That niche, too, will continue to grow quickly, he says.

“We certainly expect to see security work continue to be an important part of our business,” Zepeda says. “We are completely capable of doing this work, and I am sure there are many other companies out there that are, too.”



•   Pam Moser, Oldcastle Architectural Product Group, 375 E. Church Ave., Telford, Pa..18969, 610/287-2811,

•   Donald Smith, California Department of Corrections, 916/324-6002,

•   Leo Zepeda, The Glass Shop, 2005 E. Main St., Visalia, Calif. 93292, 559/732-5986

•   Richard Trundt, Global Security Glazing,

616 Selfield Road, Selma, Ala. 36703

, 770/516-6119,


The author is a Tulsa freelance writer.