Behind bars: the interior design of prisons


Reading the thoughts our sister blog, External Works, on Crime and the City I was wondering whether the interiors market had much to say about criminality.

Looking around I found some interesting resources on prisons.

Halden Prison, Norway

Halden Prison, Norway

Halden Prison, Norway

The picture above is one of a set which provoked much ‘Can you believe it?’ chatter on the web.

Time magazine has a good piece on the facility which opened in April 2010.

The 252 inmates at Halden will be living in 12-square-meter rooms, equipped with LCD TVs, modern furniture, and 2-square-meter showers.

The prison’s cultural center features a recording studio, library, winter garden, manufacturing workshops, fancy classrooms, state of the art gymnasium, as well as a laboratory.

Halden cells and facilities are decorated with genuine paintings that cost a total of $1 million.

Whilst some reports are much given to fulmination of the ‘Who says crime doesn’t pay’ sort, the telling statistic that in Norway only 20% of prisoners end up back in jail after release, compared to between 50 and 60% in the UK usually appears as well.

Leoben Prison, Austria

Leoben Prison, Austria

Leoben Prison, Austria

These are quotes from an interesting article in the New York Times.

Here’s a striking building, perched on a slope outside the small Austrian town of Leoben — a sleek structure made of glass, wood and concrete, stately but agile, sure in its rhythms and proportions: each part bears an obvious relationship to the whole.

I asked Hohensinn [the prison designer] what he would do if, contrary to fact, it were conclusively proved that prisons like his encouraged crime rather than diminished it. Would he renounce the design? He shook his head. “The prisoners’ dignity is all I really care about,” he told me.

Mercer County Detention Facility, Celina, Ohio

It’s interesting to contrast the first two approaches with the new county jail in Celina, Ohio. The new 110-bed facility replaced the existing jail which was built in 1939 to house 24 prisoners.

The sentiments expressed chimed with the Norwegian and Austrian projects.

“The building was simply locking people in a cage,” Grey [the local sheriff] says. “The ability to provide rehabilitation programs was minimal, although the punishment component certainly was there.”

“They forget that eventually we will release them back into society, so it is important that we at least attempt to teach them life skills,” Grey says.

Yet the piece makes no mention of the physical environment from the prisoners’ perspective. Instead the focus is on automation, security and operational costs.

The new facility is operated with direct-supervision and state-of-the technologies, such as centralized video surveillance, video visitation and video arraignment capabilities, were installed.

Officers at the inmate booking counter can readily view inmate/officer movement in the vehicular sally port, through the intake process, and into the housing unit. Similarly, officers stationed in the central control room can view inmate movement and activity within each housing pod.

“Inmate hygiene areas were finished with ceramic tile floors, special glazed masonry walls and stainless steel ceilings, all of which require no maintenance,” Williamson says.

For more on the design, construction and operation of prisons, try Correctional News.


4 Responses to “Behind bars: the interior design of prisons”

  1. Toledo Interior Design Says:

    I bet Lindsay Lohan had some nice interior decorating going on in her jail cell. They are making it too convenient for the inmates these days. If the jail cells all would look like this, I think more crime would happen cause its a better living than what a lot of other people have.

  2. Owen Philipson Says:

    Thanks for the comment! Was LL even inside long enough to “enjoy” her cell though?

  3. Nina Says:

    Anyone who says these modernized ways of thinking about prison/jail architecture will make people want to commit crime is completely ignorant. Why would anyone willingly choose to lose their freedom to a closed up box no matter how nice it is inside? Not to mention the fact that prison/jail terms obviously show up on former inmates’ records. It would only make life more miserable for them once they got out. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to rehabilitate inmates while in jail so as to prepare them for a life outside of bars? They need to learn social skills and be ready to enter back into society. Without THAT, they can and will commit the same crimes and end up incarcerated once again. People against this form of design are only speaking before they are thinking. Statistics in European countries where this has been continuously used clearly show that less inmates are returning to a prison or jail cell. This can only benefit society as a whole.

  4. julie anderson Says:

    I absolutely love this concept! Always wondering if/what was the overlap between a parole officer and interior designer that was spit out in the abilities test in high school, this has to be it…I’m so glad that I googled prisons and interior design – who’d have thought?

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