Essay on Prison Architecture

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Shawn Connell
Professor Blomquist
Writing 101-15
4/16/12
Prison Architecture

Wallace Stegner once said, “Nothing in our history has bound us to a plot of ground [since] feudalism once bound Europeans” (Stegner 301). The only exception is being imprisoned. For those who brake society’s set laws, “Prisons and their many variants are built environments whose intended purpose is punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation and incapacitation” (Awofeso). Prisons began to be more widely used because the early Catholic Church disapproved of physical punishments. In 1298, Pope Boniface VIII authorized that incarceration and lack of liberty will take the place of the “eye for an eye” way of settling disputes previously employed (Awofeso). Today, architects are still debating what the best way to design a prison and punish guilty people is. Architects’ and theorists’ many differing morals such as how cruel one can treat an inmate, can influence their opinions of prisoner treatment and rehabilitation driving their designs to be unique, often having varying negative psychological effects on their inmates. Jeremy Benthem, a theorist, had sketched quite a harsh prison concept in 1781 called the Panopticon. He believed prisons should be a form of strict discipline. His structure allowed one guard to watch all the prisoners without them knowing when they were being watched. “The mental uncertainty implicit in prisoners’ not knowing when they are being watched was promoted as a crucial instrument of discipline” (Awofeso). The prisoners were to have no contact with any other inmates. The prisoner “is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication” (Foucault 226). Without being able to talk to one another, the inmates could not discuss their crimes and get encouragement to repeat them. There also exists no chance of a planned rebellion or escape, making it only necessary to have one guard. Benthem believes to truly punish the perpetrators; their authority and dignity must be undermined. They must be stripped of any power or worth they have. They are to constantly live without knowing when they are being watched, which would translate after they are released. The prisoners would be so used to acting as though they were being examined and possibly become better people outside the prison. Benthem’s Panopticon was never directly erected so the effects on prisoners are unknown. However, through Craig Haney’s studies of other prisons, one can be sure Panopticism would have had adverse effects on those incarcerated there. Being watched constantly, Haney believes prisoners may, “labor at both an emotional and behavioral level to develop a "prison mask" that is unrevealing and impenetrable; many for whom the mask becomes especially thick and…[they find themselves] disincentive against engaging in open communication with others [and leads] them to withdrawal from authentic social interactions altogether” (Haney). Panopticicsm would dull inmates to a point of no emotions. They would become accustomed to the paranoia of being seen so they hide their feelings and actions. And since they would have no contact with any other person, they could lose all communication skills. In today’s society, the Panopticon’s form of punishment may be dubbed by the Contituation as cruel and unusual punishment. In contrast, John Haviland designed The Eastern State Penitentiary in 1821. The design was based off of the values of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons of “correctional reform and social justice” (Eastern State Penitentiary) with a purpose to bring inmates to god and a righteous way of life. “Many leaders believe that crime is the result of environment, and that solitude will make the criminal regretful and penitent” (Eastern State Penitentiary). The designer utilized unique architectural details to enhance the religious atmosphere to encourage this regret. He incorporated...
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