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January 13, 2014

Could new, creative prison architecture be a key to unlocking incarceration nation?

Prison-2-1The question in the title of this post is prompted by this very interesting article forwarded to me by a helpful reader headlined "This Radical New Prison Design Could Prevent Prisoners From Coming Back." Here are the highlights (though I recommend that readers click through to see lots of pictures and useful links):

A recent topic that has been receiving attention among architects is the issue of designing prisons. The increased awareness of the problem has been spearheaded by Raphael Sperry, founder of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, who has been campaigning to have the AIA forbid members from designing execution chambers or solitary confinement units.  At the other end of the scale, Deanna VanBuren, a principle of FOURM Design Studio and a member of ADPSR herself, has championed ‘restorative justice’, an approach to the justice system which emphasizes rehabilitation and reconciliation in order to prevent people from re-offending.

Now Glen Santayana, a student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, has used his thesis project to add to this debate, designing PriSchool — a prison which both integrates with a school of criminology and is embedded within the community. Could this radical approach to prison design really be an answer to the stretched prison system in the US (and elsewhere)?...

PriSchool is designed precisely for those non-violent offenders who struggle to stay on the right side of the law when released.  Situated in a Brooklyn neighborhood surrounded by “million-dollar blocks” — city blocks with such high crime that the state is spending over a million dollars a year to incarcerate their residents — the prison/school hybrid rethinks what a prison can achieve, positing it as a place where prisoners and students can learn from each other, and where criminals can be rehabilitated in preparation for their return to society.

The complex is split into four buildings, consisting of (from West to East) the school of criminology, the prison itself, a ‘pre-release’ building and a community center.  The form of these buildings is warped to show where the functions of each building intertwine, with bridges between them.  Prisoners and students get the opportunity to take part in lessons together, giving students the chance to get a sense of the real-life situations which they study, and offering the prisoners intellectual stimulation and a deeper understanding of the legal structure in which they are entangled.  This promotes a sense of dignity and empowerment which can reduce their chances of re-offending.

In the pre-release building, inmates whose sentences are nearing an end get the opportunity to learn new skills, gaining access to metal and wood workshops, computer labs and a range of other environments where they can learn hands-on, employable skills.  Finally, the community center is posited as a peace offering to those members of the wider community who are skeptical about being in a neighborhood arranged around a prison; it is hoped that the benefits to the community will be greater than the stigma of the prison, and that this stigma will also eventually recede over time.

January 13, 2014 at 07:01 PM | Permalink


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Interesting. Note on stigma:
Though there is a reputation which a place may acquire as a “prison town”,
rare is the inmate or even family today who perceives a stigma associated with incarceration,
be it federal, state, or local.
This disgrace or shame seems to have gone the way illegitimacy & homosexuality – ‘doing time’ is as likely to function as a badge of honour
as a “stigma”, if not more so.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 14, 2014 2:31:00 PM

Of course, with a near-impossibility of getting a job that would allow someone to sustain himself, such a prison would be moot. Most felons will never have careers, and would be hard-pressed to get jobs that allow them to last until retirement.

The problem with schools and job skills training in prison is that they are not backed with any probability that those skills would effectively be used in the first place. Ironically, having a felony in this day and age is far worse than at any other time in American history, where at least most ex-felons were able to obtain jobs that had career paths.

In the 90's, I was able to place 75% of those registered as sex offenders. I have not been able to place on registrant since 2012 (out of 70). Not one.

BY THE WAY: With regard to the new captcha system: When you see a picture of an address, that is Google's way of trying to verify an address for their anti-privacy binge. Typically, they have a photograph of an address, and a normal captcha number. I type in the captcha number correctly, but I always put in the wrong number or expletive where the address is posted. No sense in helping the NSA turn the screws on this police state.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jan 15, 2014 1:09:50 AM

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