Specialists in penitentiary infrastructure have recognized the need to develop standards to observe detainees’ conditions while guaranteeing the dignity of the minimum living conditions of the correctional system and its purpose of rehabilitation and social reintegration.
As a result, two levels of minimum standards with very different objectives can be distinguished: those set by the Red Cross, whose purpose is to ensure the living conditions of prisoners, and those drawn up by the United Nations, aimed at establishing the minimum requirements for the operation of prison systems. Therefore, the criteria that guide new facility projects should be based on good design practices rather than minimum standards.
Here are ten best practices that should not be absent in the architecture of new prisons:
- There is an oversupply of closed correctional facilities, so preference should be given to semi-open facilities, which offer better conditions for both inmates and staff.
- A correctional institution understood as a physical, administrative, and functionally autonomous unit should not exceed 300 places. Those for women should take into account gender-specific characteristics.
- Ideally, correctional institutions should not be conceived as a building but as small villages, so that the party should be essentially urban.
- Security should be achieved by design, avoiding an overabundance of physical barriers. Good architecture and proper formatting of correctional furniture contribute to friendlier, more accessible, and safer environments. Crime prevention techniques through environmental design underpin these objectives.
- The design should be oriented toward a residential environment, with small-scale living units integrated with personal spaces. Correctional furniture encourages group association in covered and uncovered areas adjacent to each other. The architecture should inspire interaction between staff and inmates.
Making space a warmer environment does not mean compromising the facility’s safety, the inmates, or the staff. Choosing the right furniture reduces the chances of being used as battering rams, hiding traffic inside, setting fire to, or using it as a weapon.
- The image should be as standard as possible, achieved through local materials, color, and pleasing aesthetic quality. Biophilia, like environmental psychology, has to be considered in the projects.
- As far as possible, bedrooms should be individual to graduate the social interaction level and provide spaces for personal use. Their surface area and habitability conditions should be at least the same as those governing the rest of the buildings.
- The spaces for treatment programs must be sufficient to develop positive activities for the necessary time, with good accessibility conditions and similar to those existing in the community.
- Water and energy consumption in correctional facilities is much higher than in other typologies, so applying sustainable architecture principles will result in significant savings, environmental conservation, and improved quality of life.
- Good practices in the design of correctional facilities need to be accompanied by adequate actions in the rest of the penal system’s aspects; otherwise, with better or worse buildings, jails and prisons will be costly human deposits that will be far from achieving the social purposes expected of them.