Will a humane prison design be beneficial?

Isaac Flores, Staff Reporter

What comes to mind when you hear the word “prison”? I bet you I could describe your thoughts. You probably think of small cells with steel bars, surrounded by concrete walls. If that’s what comes to mind, I do not blame you, because that is the reality of most prisons around the world. Prisons have always had an intimidating infrastructure that does not appeal to the naked eye. We don’t really know why prisons were built this way. It could have been with the intention to intimidate, to save money, or maybe it all just happened unintentionally. Whatever the case is I am here to argue that our prison system needs to change. A great place to start would be with its infrastructure.

I argue that the look and feel of a prison should only intensify the punishment that the inmates are receiving. The punishment for the prisoners is their sentence, their lack of freedom; it should not have to do with the infrastructure that surrounds them. Sadly though this is not the case for the prisons in the United States. Most, if not all the prisons in the United States use one of three prison blueprints. All of them are made from hard materials like concrete, steel, and linoleum, which all block light, reflect noise, and are just visually displeasing, creating an intimidating environment.

Not only that but most prisons use one of three prison designs intended to keep the prisoners in a singular interconnected building. These are built in such a way to make it easy to move around an abundance of prisoners around the prison. This plus the fact that all the windows in prisons just have a view of the inside of the prison, creates a strong disconnection from the real world, and a sense of being trapped.

The United States has done close to nothing to address this issue, but we are always quick to argue about “prison reform.” Unlike western Europe, which has actually been experimenting with different prison designs for improved and more humane prisons. For example there is a prison in Norway, which at first glance looks like an AirBnb or a type of hotel. The prison is made of materials like glass, allowing prisoners to look outside, as well as wood and cork to muffle noises. 

The prison is based on a completely different design where everything has its own building. For example, to get to the cafeteria you would have to get out of your room and commute across the prison to get to the cafeteria building. This gives the prisoners a sense of being in the outside world. All the buildings in the prison have relatively small guard stations to encourage guards to go out and interact with the prisoners. This allows guards to create relationships with the prisoners, lowering the violence that would happen in a prison.


Sarah Lazarus