Prison architecture needs to be taken seriously

Prison architecture needs to be taken seriously

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Indian Prison are awful, which present a very depressing picture. Being overcrowded, unhygienic and gloomy, these incarceration centers are presumed to be places far from being any kind of correctional centre. They often breed hardened criminals who practically become a menace to the society. A mindless adherence to centuries old jail manuals leaves very little scope for any innovative approach in the matter of dealing with people who end up in prisons for various reasons and under various circumstances. With revolutionary changes taking place in every field around us, it is high time that our mindset towards prisoners also undergoes a change, that a prison should truly reflect the spirit of correction and reformation by treating the inmates as human beings

The number of prison population is increasing globally. According to Global Prison Trends, a report prepared by Penal Reform International, an estimated one crore people are in prison globally. According to the same report, world prison population has seen a rise of 10% from 2004 till 2015. In India, an average of 33 persons per 1,00,000 population are in prisons. It not necessarily mean that the crime rate is increasing as more than one third of prison population consists of those facing trial or pre-trial detainees. 

Prisons accommodate reasonable size of the population and most of them are going to come out and join the mainstream after completing their jail term. So, their living condition in prisons worldwide is equally important as those who live outside.  A Parliamentary Committee in one of its reports had commented like this in 2009 “Indian Prison are awful, which present a very depressing picture. Being overcrowded, unhygienic and gloomy, these incarceration centers are presumed to be places far from being any kind of correctional centre. They often breed hardened criminals who practically become a menace to the society. A mindless adherence to centuries old jail manuals leaves very little scope for any innovative approach in the matter of dealing with people who end up in prisons for various reasons and under various circumstances. With revolutionary changes taking place in every field around us, it is high time that our mindset towards prisoners also undergoes a change, that a prison should truly reflect the spirit of correction and reformation by treating the inmates as human beings.” For example, when a team for  Mid term Evaluation of the Scheme on Modernization of Prisons visited Special Prison for Women, Chanchalguda, Hyderabad in 2009, found that many prisoners suffer from psychological problems like hysteria, depression, etc. The main reason for this being the pathetic condition of the prison

Therefore, modernizing infrastructure of prisons is necessary, with a view to bringing the prison management in consonance with the philosophy of reformation and rehabilitation in place of deterrence and retribution.  According to  the UN General Assembly resolution adopted in December 2015, ‘…the prison regime should seek to minimize any differences between prison life and life at liberty that tend to lessen the responsibility of the prisoners or the respect due to their dignity as human beings’. 

At a fundamental level, the infrastructure, fixtures, and even location of a prison are determining factors in how well the substantive standards of prison management can be met. For this to happen, prison design needs to be right – and architects worldwide have an important role to play prison reforms!

“I contend that the architectural environment of the prison can directly affect prisoner behavior in terms of violence and pathology. Certain design configurations can promote inmate aggression and negative psychological effects,”Barbara A. Thompson had said in her thesis PRISON DESIGN AND PRISONER BEHAVIOR: PHILOSOPHY, ARCHITECTURE, AND VIOLENCE.” 

“For any long-term facility, the decisions made at the front end of the design process will have far reaching implications throughout the operational life-cycle of a prison facility, with significant impact upon its functionality and the ability of prison management to conduct a safe, secure, and decent regime that meets international norms,” says United Nations Office for Project Service (UNOPS) in its Technical Guidance for Prison Planning. Because of the time, cost, and operational implications of changing the design process in the course of planning and construction, it is crucial that the initial planning should be as thorough and comprehensive as possible.

In India, prison reforms like any other reforms are moving ahead at snail’s pace. We have not yet come out of the habit of appointing the committees and allowing their reports to gather dust. In 2016, a new prison manual was issued and things should be hopefully better in the coming years, if the state governments take the intent of central government forward in right earnest.

Considering the appalling condition of the prisons in the States, paucity of funds with the State Governments and the dire need for improving the conditions of prisons, prisoners and prison staff, a non-plan scheme “Modernisation of Prison Administration” with a total outlay of Rs. 1,800 crore was launched by the Central Government in 2003 to be implemented over a period of five years. The amount was meant to be spent on: 

  • Construction of additional jails to reduce overcrowding
  • Repair and renovation of existing jails
  • Improvement in sanitation and water supply
  • Living accommodation for prisons staff

However, major portion of the funds were spent on providing accommodation for prisons staff. New prisons built were too not up to the standards. For example,  Nimapara Sub-Jail in Puri which was was constructed to reduce over-crowding in the District Jail of Puri and was constructed by utilizing the funds under the scheme “Modernization of Prison Administration.” The Parliamentary Sub-Committee which had visited the jail in 2008 found that the jail was situated in a secluded place, about three kms away from the main road. Though the prison was new one, there were no TV sets available in the barracks,  no library facility for prisoners, lack of facility for sports particularly indoor sports and toilets were not having proper facility of shower and wash basin. In other words, government’s modernisation plan was no better than its earlier plan (or lack of it) both in terms of design and quality of work. 

However, prison design and its layout plays a major role on the behaviour, health and mental balance of prison inmates which is evident from the success of some of the Open Jails in the country. For example, the same Parliamentary Sub-Committee had visited Biju Patnaik Open Air Jail that is called an “Ashram” and is located at Jamujhari near Bhubaneshwar which is designed in such a way that the prisoners could live a community life and enjoy much freedom during their stay in the jail. In this prison, the land is being used for growing medicinal and aromatic plants by using the biological farming practices. The inmates of the prisons were found to be very well behaved. Presently, many states like Kerala, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, West Bengal etc. have Open Institutions which are considered models of rehabilitation and reformation. 

So, we have evidence to prove that prison design and its open layout can help in transforming the prisoners into normal citizens. So, the government should no longer treat the prisons as a place of deterrence.  Proper designing of the prisons is the first step in achieving this objective and involvement of architects in this exercise is essential. Even Indian Railways has realised the significance design in building and redeveloping railway stations and prisons too should follow the same practice instead of becoming the prisoners of centuries old manuals.  Though prison development and management is a state subject, states now are well off than in the past, especially after the 14th Finance Commission recommendations and are capable redeveloping and building modern prisons on their own. Funding is no longer a problem but inclination may still be an issue.