When the word “prison” is mentioned, a some very common images come to mind – cold, gray bars set against drab, colorless walls; small, dark cells intended to isolate and punish rather than to reform or rehabilitate. Acres of razor wire surrounding these facilities bespeak the philosophy that those on the inside are to be set apart, not to be connected in any meaningful way to society at large.
A new approach is gaining support among those who design and build prisons. In contrast to earlier designs that simply seek to warehouse prisoners in the least amount of space necessary, these new models use architecture to advance the idea that prisons exist to rehabilitate inmates and prepare them for life outside the prison walls.
Glen Santayana, a student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, has proposed a radical re-imagining of what an urban prison should look like and how it should function. His design, named “PriSchool,” integrates a school of criminology with a prison for non-violent offenders, and is designed to fit unobtrusively within a Brooklyn neighborhood.
Four buildings compose the prison complex. The first contains the school of criminology, while the second is the primary housing unit for the prison. The two buildings are connected by both walkways and tunnels, allowing prisoners and students to observe one another, study together, and interact.
The third building contains a pre-release program. Inmates approaching the end of their sentences will receive vocational training and life-skills instruction as they prepare to reintegrate with society.
The final building is a community center. Santayana believes the center’s inclusion will help those living in the are overcome the stigma of having a prison in their neighborhood. The center would provide daycare services, and would house amenities such as a library, dance and recording studios, and basketball courts. Ultimately, he says, the benefits to the community will trump any stigma that might exist.
The four buildings are curved, bending toward each other to signify the different points where the purposes for each interact. The hope is that by allowing inmates to come in contact with those outside the prison system, they will regain a measure of dignity, resulting in lower recidivism rates.
Santayana’s approach is a valuable contribution to the ongoing dialogue about how to reduce recidivism rates and to increase the effectiveness of the restorative elements of the criminal justice system. Justice Fellowship, the arm of Prison Fellowship Ministries that focuses on reforming the justice system, shares Mr. Santayana’s belief that education, training, and mentoring are vital parts in ensuring that prisoners are able to be restored as productive members of society. To learn more about restorative justice, and how you can get involved, visit www.justicefellowship.org.