About the Research

This project examines the role of architecture, programmatic organization, and it’s influence on the rehabilitation of inmates.

Is it possible through thoughtful design to provide the same daily mental stimulation and social interactions one would encounter on the outside within one facility?

Prisons facilities are the sole focus of this research because they house inmates for long periods of time whereas jails, work release centers, and halfway houses are short term. I also focus only on the location, architecture, and organization; I am not qualified nor inclined to speak to sentencing and policies.

 

Through the opportunity of the John Worthington Ames Scholarship from the Boston Architectural College in Boston, MA, I am traveling to Scandinavia, Canada, and across the United States to experience the spatial design of prison facilities. Our prisons here in the United States are failing as evident in our extremely high inmate population and high recidivism rates-both the highest in the world.

The contemporary prison in the United States is a flawed design hidden behind walls of secrecy and financial gain. Not only are they unsuccessful in rehabilitation, they actually exacerbate the existing issues many inmates face prior to incarceration, subsequently locking them into the cycle of repeat incarceration.

In a system set up for failure, inmates are isolated from their families and friends in rurally located institutions, breaking familial bonds which have negative affects on both parent and child. For those living near the poverty level, costly visits and telephone calls are simply not an option. Without a family member or spouse to fill the role as guardian, the child will end up in the child services system. Removing prisons from the view of society has created a stigma that these individuals are dangerous and cannot be trusted with their freedoms.

Living in an abnormal environment for lengthy periods of time mentally, physically, and socially stagnant, an inmate is expected to reintegrate seamlessly with society upon release. With the added burden of being branded a criminal for life, inmates are unable to secure housing and employment, thus falling back into previous behaviors and recidivating. Individuals as well as entire families are caught in this carceral cycle and unable to break free. The uniformity of treatments and the one size fits all approach to imprisonment overlooks the varying needs of each inmate such as past traumas, type of crime committed, gender, age, mental health, and drug addiction.

The research spans from the country with the highest inmate population (U.S.A.) to the Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, and Norway) which have the lowest recidivism rates in the world at 20% and touches on all countries in between. After exploring countries across the globe to understand the types of facilities various cultures use for incarceration for this comparative analysis, I will compile this information into a document that will serve as a  “kit of parts” for prison design.  All inmates are different and should be treated as such, so prisons should be designed with the required architectural elements to fit the needs of the inmate population rather than as a one size fits all template.

I hope to influence positive change in the way we design prison facilities in order to set the inmates up for success rather than failure once they are released from prison. This includes maintaining connections to the outside as well as familial support systems, improving upon themselves while incarcerated, and creating an overall normative environment in the prison facility.

To be clear, my research focuses on the location and design of prisons; I am not qualified or educated in the judicial system or the law.

 

Areas of Inquiry:

1. Location: inmates may be isolated from their families and friends in distantly located institutions, breaking familial bonds which has negative affects on both parent and child. For those living near the poverty level, costly visits and telephone calls are simply not an option. Should prisons be located in the city where they are more easily connected to family via public transit? Or is it beneficial to be located far away from the community that led to incarceration?

2. What makes up a prison: should this be one large building or broken up like a college campus? I found through my tours in Scandinavia that constructing several buildings arranged on a campus creates a more normative lifestyle where inmates must walk from building to building. It is healthy in that inmates receive sunlight and fresh air while gaining the responsibility of preparing and getting themselves out to work on time, though at the same time posing security issues. I relate this idea to streets in a community.

3. Passing time in prison: what do inmates do during the day to productively spend their time and how does that improve their chance of success post-prison?

4. Transitioning through a sentence: should the building be set up to allow more freedoms as an inmate shows
responsibility, transitioning them towards the life they will live on the outside, after their sentence?

5. Gender, race, need: what are the different needs of individuals? Should they all be treated the same or could their time spent in prison be adapted to fit their needs? For instance, drug addicts, mentally ill inmates- should they be separate from the general population where they can receive the treatments they need? Women and men have different needs. Do people of different race separate inside of a prison, or is this just what we see on TV? How can we design to bring people together rather than separate and minimize violence-is this even possible?

6. Being inside: Not only are the inmates affected by the design of the prison facilities; staff such as guards, physicians, psychologists, and all other staff that are required to spend long hours inside the walls may be negatively affected mentally and emotionally.

7. Post-prison: where do inmates go after prison? What can we do to improve their success on the outside?

 

The most current outline for my research document: