Rethink Prison Design


Prison design has been a very controversial topic in recent years. While some believes the prison is an institution in which society locks away and punish criminals. More and more philosophers, architects and designers are starting to look at this common conception from a different perspective. What are the real benefits of our current criminal justice system? Does incarceration actually help reducing crime rate? Is there a correlation between high incarceration rate and high recidivism rate? The social media has taken on this topic and many websites promote rehabilitation instead of punishment of the inmates:


United States        vs.        Europe


The concept of humane prison is not new. Many Scandinavian and European countries, especially Norway and Sweden, have built facilities that do not just house inmates, but also accommodate their needs. Halden Prison in Norway provides professional courses for inmates to help them re-renter the society after their time at the prison. It also refers jogging trails, a soccer field, kitchens, dining rooms and grocery stores to help inmates rehabilitate. While in the U.S., the criminal justice system is notorious of locking inmates in a small confined space with minimal furnishings. This is especially damaging to kids and teenagers.

The United States detains more than half a million youths in juvenile detention centers, more than any other country in the world. These facilities often mistreat, punish and neglect detained youths in hope of correcting their behavior, but it only further harms them both mentally and physically making them more likely to commit crimes.


A visit to Hillbrook Detention Center


After contacting several juvenile detention centers, I was finally able to visit Hillbrook Detention Center in Syracuse, NY. I wanted to see a juvenile prison in person and understand how bad the living condition really is. To my surprise, Hillbook Detention Center was clean, minimal and they really focused on the well-being of each kid. I talked to one of the staff there, and she told me that each kid has a full class schedule on the weekdays, so they won't miss the chance to learn new things while being held at the detention center. There are plenty of activities for the kids in the play room, including drawing, playing cards and playing video games.

In the detention cell, however, the concrete bed and stainless steel toilet still look cold and "prison like". I see a design opportunity there: How can I design a confined space with "harsh" materials like stainless steel to covey a sense of warmth?


What if prisons were designed to rehabilitate as well as incarcerate?


Inspired by Scandinavian correctional facilities such as Halden Prison in Norway, Redesign Juvenile Detention Center Cell project is a furniture set designed for American juveniles housed by law in detention facilities. Utilizing traditional institutional furniture construction and materials, the furniture set transforms a cold and confined space into a friendly living area. While the project doesn’t provide a solution to the flaws of our juvenile justice system, it aims to create a private, secure and positive environment for the detained youths and potentially reduce the damage done to their emotional, cognitive and social development.

The furniture set consists of a chair, a table and a daybed. The structure of the furniture pieces is made of tubular steel and steel sheet metal. Both materials are commonly used in institutional furniture because steel is strong, durable and antibacterial. The bed and back cushion are covered with heavy coated vinyl, another common material in correctional facilities and hospitals. The material is anti-flammable, abrasion resistant and easy to clean.