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Architects’ study calls for rethink of prison cells to reduce reoffending

Cell overhead with notes credit matter architecture crop
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The state should consider reviewing the layout and dimensions of prison cells to help reduce reoffending, according to a new study of prison design by Matter Architecture

Launched today (6 December), Wellbeing in Prison Design sets out a series of practical design principles, arguing that past prison design has hindered rehabilitation and the welfare of the workforce.

Funded by the RIBA and Innovate UK, the study notes that existing cell sizes lack storage space and make it difficult for prisoners to exercise and recommends that new prisons should enable prisoners to customise their cells, including changing wall colours and furniture.

Cell overhead credit matter architecture

Cell overhead credit matter architecture

Source: Matter Architecture

‘A rehabilitation culture or “whole prison” approach,’ the study said, ‘has been described as the institutional values, work practices, skill and behaviours needed and emphasizes the role that networks and relationships have to play in supporting prisoners’ journey to active citizenship and desistance from crime. The contention here is that the design of the building has a role to play in the implementation of that culture.’

Matter produced its research after consulting with prisoners and staff at the UK’s newest and largest prison – HMP Berwyn in Wales.

It found that, although the typical cell contains most of the elements required for daily activities, the layout ‘does not enable maximum flexibility of the space’.

It said: ‘Many typical exercises, such as press-ups, that people might do in their own space are not possible in a typical cell.

‘There is inadequate storage, particularly for clothing, and the height of the cell is not made use of, due to anti-ligature requirements.’

The study called for a more intensive design process and design review, which incorporates product and furniture design ‘to make the cell as habitable, personalisable and adaptable as possible, while continuing to ensure safety and security’.

Hmp berwyn, hmpps credit hmp berwyn

Hmp berwyn, hmpps credit hmp berwyn

Source: HMP Berwyn

HMP Berwyn

In addition it notes: ‘A wider range of colours and materials creates a more visually appealing environment,’ and recommends that ‘overall cell dimensions should be reviewed’.

The study also recommended that steel doors used in most prisons should be replaced with timber ones, which would improve ventilation and morale.

Steel doors used in most prisons should be replaced with timber ones

‘The sound of steel doors closing is a continuous reminder of incarceration,’ the study said. ‘Timber doors should be considered. Where steel doors are used, baffles should be used to minimise noise.’

Prisons are ‘ideally placed’ to benefit from modern methods of construction, the study added. ‘An integrated approach to design ‘should be used to develop repeatable components and systems for the prison sector as a means to deliver better environmental performance and building quality cost-efficiently.’

Speaking about the report, Roland Karthaus, director at Matter Architecture, said: ‘There is currently a great appetite for change both within and outside the prison service. Good design is about problem-solving and the conditions in prisons for staff and prisoners and the consequential rates of reoffending represent a major problem that design can help to solve. Our report sets out design guidance that aims to do just that.

’Prison buildings cannot on their own turn people’s lives around but by using the latest building techniques and improving the way people use the interior and exterior spaces, they can support wider culture change.’

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