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Prison Design Boycott
Alex Steffen, 12 Oct 04

The U.S. justice system is a travesty. It convicts many innocent people, jails a massive number of people for victimless and minor drug crimes, warehouses people in appalling conditions, and rehabilitates almost no one.

But what to do to begin to change the system? Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) has called for a boycott by design professionals of all new prison projects in the U.S.:

"It is time to stop building prisons. Our prison system is both a devastating moral blight on our society and an overwhelming economic burden on our tax dollars, taking away much needed resources from schools, health care and affordable housing. The prison system is corrupting our society and making us more threatened, rather than protecting us as its proponents claim. It is a system built on fear, racism, and the exploitation of poverty. Our current prison system has no place in a society that aspires to liberty, justice, and equality for all.

"As architects, we are responsible for one of the most expensive parts of the prison system, the construction of new prison buildings. Almost all of us would rather be using our professional skills to design positive social institutions such as universities or playgrounds, but these institutions lack funding because of spending on prisons. If we would rather design schools and community centers, we must stop building prisons."

The site includes a pretty good overview of what's wrong with the American system. For a more comprehensive look, check out this report, which includes all sorts of fascinating information on things like the decarceration movement in Finland.

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Nice thought, but it's pretty naive to think that architects can stop new prisons from being built. I wish the U.S. could be more like Finland where people and health care are free and no one worries about a thing. Oh, I forgot about the draconian tax rates to support the government programs.

Posted by: Caesar Augustus on 13 Oct 04

I think that across-the-board incarceration is not the answer, especially in the case of things like the 'three strikes law'.

There are some individuals who, if left to their own devices, will harm others. So we make devices to stop them, namely, prisons.

I would be fine to abolish prisons if there was some way to incapacitate people who habitually display behavior harmful to others.

Prison design needs to be done with the entire community in mind. If GOOD design professionals boycott designing prisons, they're just going to get worse.

In the interview below, (scroll down a bit) Andrew Vachss notes that simply eliminating gang showers would reduce the rate of violence in prisons significantly, and notes an attempt to design a more effective model of habilitation/rehabilitation.

Also recommended:

Posted by: John Weeks on 13 Oct 04

Not to get you all down but having worked on a new prison annex to the Dixon correctional facility in Illinois last year, we designed a prison at the request of the state to be pre fab modular units - think Habitat by Moshdie Safdie, then squish it into a windowless box. Unlike Safdie, our modular system was about the most sterile, inhumane concrete and dim flourecent environment one could imagine being in, like a bad acid trip. Whats worse is that this annex was to house mentaly ill inmates, and is the annex to a 19th century Romanesque architectural treasure. So its going to get worse long before it gets better as budgets go down and prison pop. goes up.

Posted by: Mark on 15 Oct 04



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