FAIR PLAY / SUBSTANTIAL JUSTICE

prisons

Posted in Uncategorized by Ryan Locke on June 14, 2009

There’s a fascinating article in the NYT Magazine today about prisons.  The author visits a prison in Austria whose unique architecture sets it apart from prisons we have here in the US.  Worth a read.

It sounds odd to say, but it’s nonetheless true: we punish people with architecture.  The building is the method.  We put criminals in a locked room, inside a locked structure, and we leave them there for a specified period of time.

Does imprisonment work?  It seems like a bottom-line question, but the answer depends on what you want prisons to do, and that’s not an easy thing to decide.  Even if we assume that there are good and sensible reasons to incarcerate people, there remains some debate about what purpose is served.  Deterrence is often proposed as a goal, but no one really knows whether the prospect of incarceration gives would-be criminals pause, and in any case we quickly reach the realm of diminishing returns….

In fact, though most of us are reluctant to admit it, we mainly use prisons as storage containers, putting people there with the hope that, if nothing else, five years behind bars means five years during which they can’t commit more crimes. It’s called warehousing, and we do a lot of it….

[P]rominent architects aren’t lining up to take on the task of making prisons better.  Most ]architects] would be happy to design a courthouse, but few are quite as eager to build a penitentiary, though the two are merely opposite ends of a single system.  New prison construction is generally parceled out to a handful of large and more-or-less anonymous firms — a process that discourages innovation.  Whoever gets the commission is told how many beds are needed, what kinds of security, how much room for the clinic, the recreation area, the guardhouses.  They’re big-box prisons, as anonymous and uninflected as so many Wal-Marts.

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