Design of Correctional Facilities: Punishment or Rehabilitation of Criminals

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Design of Correctional Facilities – A Case Study

An article written for the Harvard Graduate School of Design Newsletter, Summer 1976 W. Easley Hamner, FAIA, Principal, The Stubbins Associates, Inc. Architects

In designing "correctional facilities," a somewhat euphemistic term revealing our societal ambivalence relating to punishment or rehabilitation of criminals, architects must consider such complex issues as isolation vs. social mixing, the effect of the environment on both inmates and administrators, and priorities regarding the investment of limited public funds. Although many critical decisions are made prior to the selection of architects, as designers, we must respond to these issues. We must also understand the conflicting needs of inmates and those who work in these facilities, as well as those who visit. Our decisions are usually not ethically momentous, but we did face serious challenges on two recent design/build competitions in Boston: the Suffolk County Jail and the Suffolk County House of Correction.

Before the Suffolk County Jail, we had no experience with this building type, and some in our office wondered about the appropriateness of our pursuing such work. A jail was felt to be an unattractive building, both aesthetically and programmatically. We would have to become part of a design/build team to be involved; and therefore would be "working for" the builder, not the owner. Those who questioned our involvement did so on an ethical basis, believing that we would be forced to lower both our design standards and our services in order to be successful.

Some background is relevant. After more than twenty years of dispute, a court order forced replacement of the 135 year old Jail. Another Cambridge architectural firm, Monacelli Associates, brought the project to our attention, offering their expertise in correctional facilities. The project became attractive after we discovered the prominence of the site, the quality of the...
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