January 22, 2014

A New Look Prison for a New Approach?

Most of the time when I write about prisons, it's about the desire of the United States to have fewer of them.  That being said, we're not likely to go the route of Sweden and start closing prisons anytime soon.  To the contrary, between replacing aged structures and the popular job project that is rural prison building, we're likely to be having pen raisin's for some time to come.

Which is what makes this proposal so intriguing (via).  It's from an architecture student at Harvard who has plans for a new concept prison-plus called PriSchool.  Rather than being built in the sticks, would be built right downtown:
PriSchool is designed precisely for those non-violent offenders who struggle to stay on the right side of the law when released. Situated in a Brooklyn neighborhood surrounded by “million dollar blocks” – city blocks with such high crime that the state is spending over a million dollars a year to incarcerate their residents – the prison/school hybrid rethinks what a prison can achieve, positing it as a place where prisoners and students can learn from each other, and where criminals can be rehabilitated in preparation for their return to society.
It would be a complex of four linked buildings - the prison itself, a school of criminology, a 'pre-release building' (something like a halfway house, I'm assuming), and a community center.  Take a look at some of the pictures here

It's awfully cool looking concept, if nothing else.  It also shows the kind of approach that might lead to long term solutions, if it can overcome short term objections.  Some folks, no doubt, will not want a prison or any kind plopped down in the middle of their neighborhood (although rural communities tend to welcome the jobs).  And others, unfortunately, are too caught up in the idea that convicts need to be punished and nothing else, regardless of the fact that most people in prison will get out someday.

I'm not certain that the problems of our incarceration nation can be solved by architecture, but I'm willing to give it a shot.

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