Page 1


REHABILITATION CENTRE FOR WOMEN OFFENDERS: Reinterpreting the programme and architecture of prisons Project: Undergraduate Design Thesis, CEPT University, Ahmedabad Author: Niharika Sanyal Guides: Meghal Arya and Uday Andhare Project Recognition: Selected amongst the best 3 theses in India at the National Jury organised by the government-constituted Council of Architecture-NIASA, 2014. When we speak about crime, we often focus on preventing it rather than looking at the source of the social problem. People who commit crime might possibly be hailing from backgrounds that are crimeprone, where the family unit has disintegrated. Parallel this with studies that show that a vast majority of prisoners across India return to a life of crime upon release from prison. There is therefore a constant cycle between the committers of crime and society, and it doesn’t end when they are put in prison. More often than not, prisons serve as breeding grounds for further crimes, for resentment. By creating an unhealthy prison environment, we are therefore cultivating more crime, which in turn is brought to society sooner or later because many released prisoners are not able to reintegrate into society. To put an end to this vicious cycle, it is very important to understand the potential of the prison environment in preventing crime, at the source. There is emerging research in psychology and neuroscience today to show that our environment affects our emotional and mental health significantly. The idea of prison as a place that is meant for inflicting punishment is an archaic one, with its focus shifting towards rehabilitation today. While this proposal focuses on women’s prisons, it is possible to explore this idea further for all categories of prisons. The proposal may be read bearing in mind that women are the glue of society. When women inmates return to society they comprise the integral family unit, which in turn generates future society – one that may be safe for all others. The environment in prisons has great potential to be more humanising, so that the process of rehabilitation can be aided. It is possible to provide a sense of normality, while having security. Newer prisons in Australia and Europe are setting benchmarks today by redesigning prisons so that they can better help inmates develop emotional wellbeing and cultivate healthy relationships with society. There is great potential for Indian prisons to take this up as a serious matter, if we are to strive towards a safer society at large.

Concerns about mental health in prisons: 1. Overcrowded living conditions in barracks lead to high stress levels and do not nurture healthy relationships between inmates. Prisons therefore become breeding grounds for cultivating further a life of crime. We need to fundamentally look at the relationship between living conditions in prisons and the impact they have on the inmate’s psychology. 2. The condition of pregnant and lactating mothers is particularly sensitive. The mothers and young children require an environment that is conducive for the child’s development. 3. The idea of indirect surveillance where one is being watched at all times by an authoritative figure creates a sense of fear and resentment, which later reflects as aversion towards society. The nature of this relationship between guard and prisoner needs to be fundamentally altered into a more dignified relationship. 4. Connection with society is often lacking for inmates, particularly for women inmates who often do not have the opportunities that male inmates have in the larger men’s jails. One of the strongest reasons behind the choice to return to a life of crime is a failure to re-integrate into society. Counselling and volunteering opportunities for society to work with inmates should be encouraged, and vocational training provided for women inmates to learn skills and crafts, to sell their creations, produce goods and cook food.

The prison as a sensitizing physical environment: 1. Connection with nature: to reduce the psychological sense of confinement and enable deeper respect for one’s surroundings. Natural environments also have a therapeutic effect on the mind and body. 2. Community clusters: In a village-like setting that mirrors society, inmates can depend on each other and monitor each other. This means re-looking at what is the ideal size for sharing rooms. Is it healthy to be crammed into a barrack with 30 other people? Or is it better if small groups share rooms and common space like a courtyard? Is it possible to create a place where human relationships based on sisterhood may potentially form, and where dignity is lent to the individual. Recreational and spiritual activities can be organised for the mental health of inmates. 3. Breaking of scale: so that the prison building relates more to the individual persons, and less with the idea of an imposing authority. 4. Colours and materials: these can go a long way in softening the living environment, affecting the psychology of inmates positively. The wall, which encloses and confines an inmate in the jail, can become a much more meaningful element over and above being a barrier, through the choice of colours and materials. 5. Ventilation and natural light: This is crucial to ensure good health, vitality and also a sense of connection with the external environment.

Typi calaccommodat i on

Pr oposedr ooms

Typi cali sol at i onf r om soci et y

Pr oposedi nt egr at i ngact i vi t i es

Typi calcent r al i sedsur vei l l ance

Pr oposedsel f moni t or i ngandsel f di sci pl i ne

Shar ed compound wal l s bet ween di f f er ent cat egor i es ser ve t o i nt egr at e t he ent i r e or gani sat i on,compact i ng t he pl an f ur t herand al l owi ngf ormor el andt obel ef topenf orcour t yar ds andcul t i vat i on. Thewal lal sobecomesmor et hanj ustanel ement ofsepar at i on.I tr i sesupabovet hecompoundwal l t hatbl ockst heWestwi ndsandbr i ngsi ndr af t sf or vent i l at i on.

Eachl i vi ngquar t ercompr i sesacommunal spaceor cour t yar d, whi ch i s desi gned t o cr eat e a comf or t abl emi cr ocl i mat e. Tr eesshadet hecour t yar dandwat erbodi eskeep t het emper at ur el ow.Bybr i ngi ngi nel ement sof nat ur e,t hei nmat esar eal l owed r epr i evef r om t hesenseofencl osur e. Per gol asandt er r acegar densont her oofpr ot ect t hel i vi ngquar t er sf r om heat ,andgar deni ngal so ser vesasat her apeut i cact i vi t y .

Ani nmat ecanf i ndf orher sel fanooki nt heshar ed r oom.Openi ngsal l owi nnat ur al l i ghtf r om t hecour t andhor i zont algr i l l sdon’ tobst r uctvi si on.


The Architecture of Incarceration Changing paradigms in prison architecture Niharika Sanyal CEPT University, Ahmedabad

“In a perverse exercise of creativity, architects create penal structures designed to destroy the personality.” (Derek S. Jeffreys, 2013, Ch. 3) Feeble light enters the cell from a grilled ventilator at a height of three metres from the floor. The grilled entrance to the cell faces a verandah through which an outer courtyard decked with pink flowering shrubs can be viewed. These offer perhaps some visual retreat to the prisoners confined in these solitary chambers for revolutionary ‘crimes’ during British colonisation in India. The British strategically chose the best suited location to practise such a penal philosophy of solitary confinement – atop the isolated island of Port Blair in the Bay of Bengal. All architectural decisions that went into the making of the Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands stemmed from the decision to punish by isolation. A radial plan was adopted with 7 branching wings connected by a central tower. From here, the guard had a vantage point over all wings. As one walks along the length of the bare back facades of each wing, a sense of desolation is pervasive. One is forced to imagine how effectively isolation was enforced through this radial plan – each cell could only view the backs of other cells, preventing communication between the prisoners. A yellow gateway, flanked by two towers, marks the entrance into the jail. Once inside, the severe programme that the building houses becomes highly apparent through its strict geometry – the radial plan creates perspectives of an exaggerated nature, drawing one’s attentions across rows of grilled arches towards the high watchtower. The triangular courtyards between each wing served as grounds for flogging, and for implementing torture techniques like oil grinding, hanging by the leg in the sun, etc. The Cellular Jail today stands as a symbol of India’s freedom from the British Raj, housing museums that tell stories of horror and offering panoramic views of the island and sea from the roof top terraces.

Cellular Jail, Po rt Blair, Andaman & Nicobar Islands: Radial layout, back of a wing , verandah

Prison Architecture Largely, the purpose of prisons since the conception of the institution in the 18th century in Europe has been to instil punishment by depriving inmates of their freedom. Prison architecture is the epitome of hard architecture, designed to erase human dignity by constantly enforcing on criminal minds the notion of punishment for misdeeds done. It is debatable whether architecture remains ‘architecture’ when it deals with forms of constraint, diametrically reversing the otherwise eternal aspiration of architects to elevate the human condition. The minimum criterion of a prison should be that an inmate emerges no worse than when he entered. Instead, there is much data to prove that prisons serve as breeding grounds for further criminal activity. This essay analyses the role of the architecture of prisons, as opposed to only the penal philosophies they embody, in modelling human behaviour. It attempts to establish whether the two have any relation at all. It also attempts to touch upon the various ways in which a rehabilitative prison programme can manifest itself architecturally. 1. Architecture of Surveillance: An analysis on the blurred boundaries between public and private realms of individuals The all-seeing eye of Jeremy Bentham’s circular Panopticon prison model set the stage for an architecture of surveillance to emerge in its most ‘ideal’ form in the 18th century. The central guard tower can see all but not be seen. Such a system is organised along visual, aural and symbolic lines. Symbolic surveillance: The name of Dartmoor prison evokes images of a forbidding silhouette against the skyline. Older prison models, like Dartmoor, accorded a great deal of emphasis on the symbolic conveyance of authority in order to deter criminal activity within their walls. These were characterized by centralized tall observation towers, strategic placement of observatory agents and a clear dominance in the spaces assigned to authorities. Such surveillance is especially evident in radial organisations. Most had a pronounced gateway that acted as a mediating zone between the public realm of the outside society and the inner workings of the inmate world.

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, Eastern State Peniten tiary in Philadelphia (1821), Pentonville Prison (1842)

Visual surveillance: Watchtowers, open hallways, grills instead of doors to cells, use of mirrors – all of these strategies serve to facilitate a visual surveillance on the inmates. Most early 19th century prisons were modelled on the disciplinary gaze of the guard over the inmates. At the Minnesota State Prison, columns are even omitted and connecting corridors between blocks are made of glass to establish a perpetual visual control. 1 Aural surveillance: At the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, surveillance has been stretched to the point that forms are manipulated to direct sounds to the centrally positioned keeper. High vaulted ceilings are designed thus, also reducing the ability of prisoners to communicate with each other. Extended walls between cells are designed to prevent communication between inmates and to prevent the foreknowledge of the arrival of guards down the corridor. 1

Eastern State Penitentia ry, Philadelphia: Imposing en tran ce gate, ex tended walls between cells

2. Forms of Constraint: Hard architecture and materiality; prisons as a model in prescriptive design Quite ironically today, the architecture of the total institution of prison has become the model for housing developments, commercial buildings and even airports. The scale and impermeability of hard architecture is oppressive to the human spirit and yet has found various manifestations today in walled campuses and housing societies around the world.2 Neo-behaviourism serves as an ideological prop behind hard architecture, claiming that providing decent housing for public charges would amount to ‘rewarding’ poverty or criminal behaviour. Neo-behaviourism expounds that the taking away of an appetitive stimulus generates negative punishment, in order to decrease a certain behaviour – thus believing that improved physical conditions will actually ‘reinforce’ criminal tendencies. The oppressive environments that such a belief propounds can instead foster even further criminal activity amongst inmates, stemming from a sense of resentment towards society. 2 Prescriptivity in prison design is meant to order human behaviour to avoid minimum conflict between inmates and officials. Prescriptivity is meant to deprive one of freedom of movement and choice which, in a democratic society based on ideas of freedom, amounts

to a powerful form of punishment. Such rigid design measures can be implemented through the organisation in plan as well as through the choice of materials. Organisation: Prescriptive design explains the preference for radial corridor-based organisational plans. A truly prescriptive design must lack any covert places and recesses for ‘evils’ to abound and must convey a sense of omnipresent surveillance. Freedom of movement can be abused by prisoners who use it as an opportunity to trade drugs or physically assault other inmates. Complex networks can develop like cliques and gangs in more relaxed prison environments, which explains the reluctance of many prison officers to work in new generation prisons. 6 Considering separation important in order to prevent moral contamination, prisons have over time overcome the need to enforce physical punishment, instead making the b uilding itself a passive instrument for maintaining good behaviour. As a result, the interior spaces in prison accommodation evolved in the 19th century to became increasingly cellularized and claustrophobic, while the exterior facade became more expansive and grandiose.6 Materials: The typical solution so far has been to harden prison furnishings and attach them to the walls, in the mistrusting attitude that prisoners can use any piece of furniture as a weapon, or vandalise it. The advocacy of fixed, indestructible furnishings creates an oppressive environment. A possible solution to this quandary lies in opting for softer materials, like Styrofoam for chairs, and inflatables for mattresses – which are sufficiently cheap to be replaced in the few cases of vandalism, and present no potential harm. 2 At the New Jersey State Penitentiary in Leesburg, subtlety has been tested as a measure to generate a disciplined environment through the employment of reverse psychology in the choice of materials. Believing breakable materials to be a necessary component of humane environments, the architects used large amounts of glass in the prison’s architecture. This invariably requires the prisoners and guards to arrive at a mutual agreement so as to prevent flare-ups that would lead to shattering of the glass walls. 2 Of course, the very employment of such an experimental strategy suggests a re-look into the way that this institution functions, and ways in which simple architectural strategies can generate a social shift in these disciplined landscapes.

The prescriptive measures employed in prison design have been modified variously to fit the ‘needs’ of other institutions today like student hostels, old-age homes and even schools. In India especially, models of student hostels have evolved to prevent interactions amongst students, especially amongst boys and girls, under the premise of preventing ‘disorderly behaviour’. Fixed timings deprive one of a basic sense of freedom and sparse furniture is provided under the premise of probable vandalism. Gates are located such that they can be locked by the authorities to prevent students from ‘escaping’.

3. The Inmate World: The social situation of inmates – a look into the causalities that link physical environments and human behaviour ‘Every institution captures something of the time and interest of its members and provides something of a world for them... A total institution may be defined as a place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life.’ (Erving Goffman, 1961) 3 There seems to be a wide-ranging lack of consensus as to what incarceration is supposed to achieve. Rehabilitation is often viewed as a goal in itself, and is employed through varying strategies in several prison models. The first American Prison in Pennsylvania was based on the model of solitary confinement which the penal forces believed would provide the transgressors ample time to mull over their misdeeds, and to repent. Following this, hard work came to be viewed as a possible path towards repentance and improvement, which resulted in the development of the Auburn Prison. Curiously, the prison employed a silent system in which inmates could come together to work but were not allowed to talk to each other. This was based on the idea that an ascetic life would reform the prisoners.2 Studies have shown, however, that Prisoners are often known to succumb to effects of isolation in these systems, resulting in de-individuation, disculturation and stimulus deprivation.2 Isolation deprives one of one’s personal identity, rejecting his needs for creativity and communion. By the 1840’s the increasingly strict policy of seclusion was noted to have resulted in a growth in the number of insane prisoners. 6 Sadly, prisons have been playgrounds for manifestation of negative spiritual forces like anger, fear and dehumanization – with architecture and technology being employed by penal authorities to achieve these ends.4 Of late, several alternative strategies have been employed with effective results to produce a transformation in criminal minds. Meditation, immersion in religious goa ls, bibliotherapy – these have served to reform criminals into good citizens because they create an inner unity not imposed upon them by the outside world, but stemming from an inner realisation. 4 The programme of the prison as we know it must change to accommodate such alternative measures at rehabilitation.

4. New Prison Models: arriving at a reconciliation between the paradoxical aims of punishment and rehabilitation Architecture today, especially in Australia and Scandinavia, is striving to redefine the role of incarceration in our society. An increasing awareness in the need for communion and basic human dignity in developing mentally sound persons has evolved penal philosophies of the new generation model. Surveillance: A re-examination into the idea of surveillance as being a necessary requisite to enforcing punishment has changed the entire organisational patterns, massing and notions of place-making in prisons. Durham and Woodhill prisons have modest entrances of a humane scale.5 There is an attempt at erasing the idea of surveillance altogether through the employment of invisible security measures like cameras. This is undertaken under the purview that such a predominating external influence is detrimental to the inmate’s psychological improvement. Surveillance serves to expound fear, while the role of these reformatory prison models is to encourage positive self-development that stems from an internal will. Privacy: In Australia’s Mobilong prison, a radical decision to eliminate bars and grills altogether from the design is a step in the direction of restoring basic human dignity. The prisoners’ rooms have a hatch that may be slid by the guards to observe at times, but for the most part the inmates are allowed to retain their privacy. 7 Soft Architecture: The architecture of the new generation prison models attempts to create humane scales and psychological benefits through the use of colours that lend aesthetic variations, visual connections to the external environment, landscaping elements like courtyards, gardens and pathways (as in the West Kimberley Regional Prison) to create an ‘uninstitutional feel’ and intentionally normalized settings. Furnishings are soft and rounded at the ages to prevent injury, and recessed lighting is used to remove unsafe points that might potentially be used in suicide attempts. 8 Community living: The organisation of the West Kimberley Regional Prison in Australia adopts a cluster approach to living, with provisions for shared facilities between inmates , domestic duties in units and intimate spaces like courtyards and gardens. The inmates, depending on their category, can access open spaces of their own free will. Community programmes that look after the landscape of the place encourage environmental awareness amongst the inmates.8

West Kimberley Regional Prison, Australia : site plan and image showing cluster living and landscaping

Movement: Currently many prison programmes spend around 80% of their resources on prison management, with not much left to facilitate programmes to prevent re-offending. Hilary Cottam’s award-winning design for the ‘learning prison’ maintains the highest levels of security while freeing up staff time and prison budgets. By simply reducing the movement of prisoners within the jails, it has enabled scarce resources to be switched from security measures to rehabilitation. By linking individual units to enclosed outside space to which prisoners have relatively free access, the design reduces the time and cost associated with allowing inmates supervised time in the open air.6 Security: While the ‘learning prison’ appears to be liberal, the arrangement of space is ‘strictly controlling’, due to which activities within clearly defined spaces is free. The prisoner in this system is judged not by his conformity but by his activities and work. Instead of outrightly depriving inmates of their freedom, this prison reverses the logic of the Panopticon model. It is founded on an ‘invisible pedagogy’ whereby each prisoner is a member of an accountable group, living close to external space. 9

Conclusion: prison reform in the Indian scenario In the light of these novel programmes, we may look closer home at the Tihar Jail in Delhi. Kiran Bedi introduced prison reforms in India in the 1990’s with programmes that advocated hygiene, medical attention and effective rehabilitation programmes. Ms Bedi advocates the importance of ‘community-based’ reforms, focusing on meditation and encouragement of literacy with the involvement of NGO’s and even students who can host street plays for prisoners. Architecturally, however, India is yet to effectively manifest its reformatory prison model but there is a major scope in the same. Unlike Western prisons which face a problem owing to the solitary confinement system, the Indian penal system is facing the reverse problem, owing to the problem of overcrowding in

prison cells. There is much left to be explored in the avenue of Indian prison architecture. Many prisons like the Cellular Jail in Port Blair are modeled on the his toric British system of prison design. If India is to truly implement its rehabilitative prison programmes at large in the country to counter the increasing menace of crimes and repeat offences, it must embark on the development of an Indian prison model. Much of our Indian philosophy is based on the theory of self-improvement as a way of life. Yoga and work have formed a core of our ancient traditions. Taking these learnings further in to reformatory programmes for prisons would be very challenging, especially considering the problems posed by overcrowding, violent behaviour and illiteracy. The point of this essay has been to attain an overview of the possible ways in which architecture can transform itself to accommodate changing programmes and penal philosophies. To examine this now through the window of the Indian social scenario is a necessity, and an extremely challenging one. It is not appropriate to transport a Western ideal into our scenario, but by having an overview of the various strategies emplo yed elsewhere, we may begin to arrive at a decision about how we undertake the task of bettering society, starting from the bottom up.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Books 1. Andrzejewski, Anna V. Building Power: Architecture and Surveillance in Victorian America. University Tennessee Press, 2008. 2. Sommer, Robert. Tight Spaces: Hard Architecture and how to humanize it. Prentice Hall, 1974. 3. Goffman, Erving. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. Penguin Books Ltd, 1961. 4. Jeffreys, Derek S. Spirituality in Dark Places: The Ethics of Solitary Confinement. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 5. Fairweather, Leslie, & McConville, Sean. Prison Architecture. Architectural Press, 2000. 6. Jewkes, Yvonne. Handbook on Prisons. Willan, 2010. Research Papers & Essays 7. Grant, Elizabeth. Mobilong Independent Living Units: New Innovations in Australian Prison Architectur. 2006. 8. Hobbs, Peter, & Grant, Elizabeth. West Kimberly Regional Prison. Architecture Australia (July/August), 2013. 9. Henley, Simon. The 21st Century Model Prison (2003). 4th international Space Syntax Symposium, London. 10. Ganguly, Meenakshi. ‘A Place to Call Home: New Delhi’s Tihar jail has gone from being an unruly hellhole to a global model for prison reform’. New Delhi: Time Asia.

Rehabilitation Centre for Women Offenders: Reinterpreting the Architectural Typology of Prisons  
Rehabilitation Centre for Women Offenders: Reinterpreting the Architectural Typology of Prisons  

Design Thesis completed in 2014 by Niharika Sanyal at CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India. Faculty: Meghal Arya and Uday Andhare