Confinement is, in the penal sense, a restriction of physical activity within a defined physical boundary. It has been,but should never have been a restriction on mental activity. From this it would follow that there are, perhaps,analogies with other institutions of confinement, such as schools (single sex boarding ), monastries and convents, perhaps even hospitals. Of course, incarceration is not a free choice, but, historically in some cases, this has been true also for the aforementioned institutions.
The evolution of prisons has recognised the fact that the imposition of physical hardship within the prison as a “punishment”, additional to the necessary confinement for public safety, is cruelty to the mind. Hence prison design, organisation and management has and ought to be increasingly focussed on curing the prisoner’s mind, through understanding the origin and development of it.
All of our other “institutions” are becoming much more security conscious, although aiming to keep people out rather than in, yet when in, 24hr surveillance is just as common as in prisons. Increasingly parts of our city centres bristle with overt protection and surveillance equipment.
It seems that our society is communicating a growing sense that we are physically untrustworthy. We are living in a society where trust in those who have or appear to have power has all but vanished. Without trust there is no sense of citizenship. Hence the growing privatisation of our city centres, the growth in surveillance installations where private security reaction always ends up at the door of the publicly funded police. Our urban centres are becoming less places of learning, sharing and communication while the opposite, quite correctly, is becoming the intention of prisons.
Maybe because the nature of our “free society” has lost much of its ability to provide a tolerant and caring environment, that to create such an environment within prisons will be an anathema to most people. Prison architecture is simply a physical manifestation of the predominant prison philosophy, which in turn is a reflection of what society considers to be acceptable retribution as interpreted by present government.
© Ian Ritchie for Architectural Design 10/1994