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The Academy of Architecture for Justice (AAJ) promotes and fosters the exchange of information and knowledge between members, professional organizations, and the public for high-quality planning, design, and delivery of justice architecture.

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How Prison Architecture Can Transform Inmates' Lives

  • 1.  How Prison Architecture Can Transform Inmates' Lives

    Posted 06-18-2014 13:14

    Dear AAJ folks,

    Some of you have probably seen this article and/or the scholarly paper it describes, but I think you'll find it interesting. While based on research in the Netherlands, it has a lot of implications and some comments on US prisons. Not news to you, but now it's knowledge

    "After controlling for age, ethnicity, intimate relationships at the time of arrest, education level, personality traits, criminal histories, and officer-to-inmate ratios, the authors discovered that their hunch was correct. If the prisoners were housed in leaky dungeon-like panopticons, they tended to feel more estranged from guards. But if they were enjoying campus-style living arrangements or apartment-style high-rises, they perceived the relationships as more supportive.

    ... Prisoners in panopticon layouts were least positive about their relationships with officers. Prisoners in radial, courtyard, rectangular, and high-rise layouts had an increasingly positive judgment about officer-prisoner relationships. When compared with prisoners in panopticon layouts, prisoners in campus layouts were most positive about these relationships. ...

    The analysis also turned up a significant relationship between the perceptions and two more specific variables, age of construction and double bunks. "Prisoners experienced their relationships with officers more positively in newer units and in units with a lower percentage of double cells," the authors write. "Old units and high levels of double bunking are especially present in panopticon layouts." Double bunking might mean less individual attention from prison staff, the authors note."

    Raphael Sperry AIA
    San Francisco CA

  • 2.  RE: How Prison Architecture Can Transform Inmates' Lives

    Posted 06-19-2014 17:35

    Thanks for posting this Raphael.  Its a pretty good article, but it fails me why folks are so fixated on an 18th century model.  The Panopticon was discredited a long time ago.  Maybe its because architects think its all about the building.  Anyway there were a few good comments about new generation prisons, direct supervision unit management pods.  I liked the comments about preference for single cells over double bunking, and have always thought that its ironic that in the controversy over so called solitary, its single cells that are preferred.  I'm pretty sure I'd want my own room...

    Anyway whats pretty clear is that while the building is important, but whats even more important is the programs and services that are offered to inmates to prepare them for return to society.  Enlightened correctional systems like in Washington state begin Re-entry planning from the day of admission, with counseling, education and vocational resources directed toward each individual's needs.

    In this era of flat or declining populations, shorter sentences for non violent crimes, drug legalization/decriminalizaton becoming mainstream, and with evidence informed best practices available to prison managers, its time for a renewed emphasis of treatment based approaches that can improve outcomes for those facing the great challenges of return to society.

    Frank Greene FAIA
    RicciGreene Associates
    New York NY