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In pursuit of hope

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Prison Architecture: Policy, Design and Experience Edited by Leslie Fairweather and Sean McConville. Architectural Press (Butterworth-Heinemann), 2000. 192pp. £39.50

As we enter a new millennium the ways in which buildings are developed, and subsequently operated, are changing beyond all recognition.

Just as fleet hire companies maintain and lease cars and lorries for commercial use, so new forms of finance and management arrangements are now available for building 'procurement'.

This has particularly profound implications for state infrastructure; for not only is the concept of private ownership and delivery of such facilities as water supplies and roads widely accepted, it is now common for private companies to build, manage and maintain hospitals, schools, police stations and indeed any building that the community might require.

While the arguments for and against private finance initiatives (PFI) are complex and will continue, the process is clearly gaining ground and, in some form or other (currently PPP), private financing is surely here to stay.

So, how will it affect the prison service and what are the disadvantages of transferring the development and ownership of our prison fabric to the private sector?

Firstly, PFI tends to make the designers of buildings ever more remote from those who run them, and those who live in them. Secondly, private companies tend to guard their product information jealously: they are competing in a commercial market, so why should they share their knowledge?

Research and development will therefore suffer accordingly.

But sharing knowledge is essential in the interests of all those who are responsible for, work in and live within our prisons, which is why this new book, Prison Architecture, is so important. Co-edited by architect Leslie Fairweather and criminologist Sean McConville, its contributors deal with issues as diverse as the psychological effects of prison environments, design in relation to assault patterns, construction procurement routes and financing options.

Their work is the result of a symposium funded back in 1998 by the Nuffield Foundation, which saw architects, academics, prison administrators and staff, private sector providers and penal reformers all come together to share concerns and ideas in the first major event of its kind for 20 years.

Exchange between these groups is long overdue because those responsible for the design, maintenance and management of our prisons are facing an increasingly difficult task: how to maintain public confidence in a system served by a wide range of increasingly unsuitable building stock, from the new to the very old, from the large to the small, and with locations varying from Dartmoor to Durham.

Revenge, deterrence, public protection and rehabilitation are all reasons within the public imagination that justify the existence of prisons. A responsible and civilised society must, of course - through a respect for human decency - temper any desire to use the design and condition of prison fabric as a basis for deterring would-be offenders.

More than that, it should ensure that facilities offer both prison staff and inmates the best assistance towards reform and rehabilitation. That way lies hope, and this book is a milestone in the pursuit of those objectives.

Essent ial reading , it w ill have a profound impact on the design and management of our prison facilities, on all those who live and work in them, and ultimately on those who must rely on the effectiveness of the prison service - the public.

Hyett Salisbury Whiteley has recently carried out a major restoration at the Old Bailey

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