Saturday, February 17, 2007

Creative Prison Design

The always thought-provoking Subtopia lets us know about the Creative Prison design project from the UK. I don't suspect these types of rehab-oriented units are what the Lt. Governor and prison builders are talking about for Texas. but it's clear to me that prison architecture has a lot to do with prison safety, and there are a lot of good ideas here.


Anonymous said...

This module design seems awfully reminiscent of the women's facility at Niantic, CT, USA, which at one point in time was referred to as "The Farm".

The really attractive thing, of course, would be to actually start building a world where prisons are unnecessary. Our job should never be to build ideal prisons. I'm surpised the artists/architects didn't have more of an ethical problem with this project.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The Subtopia author addressed that:

"Of course, there is the argument, as I have explored before, that architects should not be assisting in the design or building of prisons at all anymore, because by doing so only adds to the systemic problem of a prison-industrial-complex, which has produced an entire industry of incarceration, a landscape of recidivism underwritten by policy which overcriminalizes and by business practice which literally rakes in billions of dollars by building and maintaining prison facilities. Raphael Sperry, president of ADPSR (Architects, Designers, Planners for Social Responsibility), who started the admirable Prison Design Boycott, makes a great point when he argues that architects may better effect prison reform by throwing their support behind more political actions that are seeking to unravel the profit and political power motives that mainly drive the expansion of the prison industry and the subsequent production of criminality and recidivism. There are root issues that need to be addressed in addition to the spatial complicity for which architects perhaps play into when designing prisons."

I agree it would be better to pursue a world where prison building is unnecessary, but I also think prison architecture contributes to confinement's ineffectiveness by emphasizing control and disempowerment of prisoners rather than their rehabilitation. In juvie facilities, architecture has been proven to make a huge difference in outcomes.

So, I don't support more prison building, but if we must build them I'd prefer the be built in a smarter fashion than the 19th century model with which our society is presently obsessed. best,

Anonymous said...

But the design of Niantic DOES come out of the nineteenth century--or thereabout. To assert, somehow, that such design is new or hasn't been thought of before totally misses the point--I'll get to what that point is in a moment. There are cases of penal colonies from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries set up on this model: have you heard of Islas Marias off the Pacific Coast of Mexico? Does anybody who comments on this stuff read ANY penal history beyond that produced for Northern Europe, the US, or Australia?

If one reads Andi Rierden, _The Farm_ one understands that the communal design of Niantic started to break down as the twentieth-century rehabilitative model fell victim to massification and incapacitation. And that's the point.

This "new" prison architecture misses the point, then. That point being that what we really need -- and WHY architects MUST NOT build "creative" prisons -- is SENTENCING REFORM. If we build more prisons--irrespective of the design--then they will be filled.

Remember -- architecture is NOT a way out of our crisis. If that were the case, then why is the penitentiary now 230 years old, with people still trying to refine its architecture.

Again: such architecture misses the point. The point: to raise awareness of the way in which a world can be built without prisons. The point is not to build prisons to fit this world.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm with you, Patrick, and I doubt you'll find many people who've worked harder for sentencing reform in Texas than me. But, e.g., if the Texas Lege decides to build 3 new prisons, as Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and the prosecutors want, should they be built on the command and control model or more along these lines?

Also, I've not read Rierden, nor heard of the Mexican example you cite but I'll check them out.

I'll bitterly oppose prison building right up until the Governor signs the bill to build them. But at that point I'd prefer better architectural options than our current TX facilities provide. best,

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with you at all, Scott. And I know that you are one of the long-time stalwarts in support of sentencing reform. I do, however, think it problematic that creative architecture is being passed off as something innovative, and, once again (much like lethal injection) is being used to hide the reality of what prison is: punishment, irrespective of the surrounds..

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