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Buschow Henley homes in on radical rethink for prisons

Buschow Henley Architects has produced this architectural vision for the prison of the 21st century.

The project - commissioned by the charity the Do Tank, with the backing of the head of the prison service Martin Narey and prisons minister Hilary Benn MP - is part of a comprehensive and radical review of the design and ethos of Britain's jails.

Buschow Henley's design, the first major rethink of prison planning in 200 years, replaces the Victorian model of a vast building divided into wings, with a series of individually secure houses. Each of the houses will be largely self-contained, providing cells for 35 prisoners and facilities for most of their daily activities. Education will provide the focus for the new prison regime, which its supporters claim will radically reduce re-offending rates.

Buschow Henley director Simon Henley claims the layout of houses - 'like a chess board' - provides a more efficient use of space than the traditional model. It also reduces security needs by eliminating the movement of prisoners from one wing to another throughout the day, he said, adding that the design of the house could be replicated in half-way houses beyond the prison walls to ease the transition of ex-offenders back into society.

Director of the Do Tank Hilary Cottam said the project was not an architectural research exercise but a focus on solving a real social problem. 'This is not blue-skies thinking - it's carefully worked out, ' she said. 'We are still building on the 19th-century model. There's no point putting a few classes on the edge, we must rethink the whole system.'

Cottam is confident the political will exists to implement the new model, and is working with the prison service to produce more research. 'This is a unique moment of opportunity, ' she said.

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