“Pods give prison authorities flexibility, so violent predators, say, can be housed in Pod A, burglars with substance abuse issues that need treatment go in Pod B, and low security inmates like check passers go in Pod C,” Goldberg says. “If all you have are large cell blocks with 50 to 80 cells opening into one day room and one yard, you may have to put your check passer in with the serial killer.”
Not only does podular design increase classification flexibility, it tends to lower costs. California built 23 new prisons between 1980 and 2000 and now spends approximately $9 billion a year on its correctional system. In a podular system, guards can supervise more than one pod from a central control facility, so fewer guards are necessary. California currently employs 30,000 prison guards, the costs of which amount to 40 percent of its prison budget. Correctional departments are therefore always leaning on architects to find ways to reduce prison operating costs.
Goldberg says one way to lower costs is through the use of electronictechnology.
“We can now harness an array of electronic technology, the likes of which was neither available nor affordable 10 or 20 years ago,” he says. One example is video arraignment, where a communications link is established from jail to courthouse, so for early appearances and certain hearings the accused does not need a two-sheriff escort to the courthouse for most of the day. Goldberg says this type of video link, which cost over $100,000 just a few years ago, can be installed now for $20,000 to $30,000.
Another electronic advance is video visitation, where inmates uses a link from a booth in the day room to remotely communicate with visitors located in the prison lobby, or perhaps one day at home. Guard escort duties are thus reduced.
“Placing these types of affordable technologies in the cutting-edge jails not only enhances security, it lowers manpower costs,” Goldberg says.
Divide & conquer
The use of new electronic technologies, as well as the podular divide and conquer design, is also popular in Europe. One new high-tech jail in the Netherlands is built around a number of innovations. Suitable, non-violent prisoners are housed in 25 six-person cells, inmates wear electronic wristbands so guards can track their movements, and guards are equipped with handheld devices to monitor trouble. Cells have three bunk beds (each bed with its own touchscreen television), two toilets, one shower, a washer-dryer, and dining table with six chairs.
On average, 150 prisoners are housed at Lelystad, overseen by no more than six guards. According to Dutch correctional authorities, the prison is seen as the future of correctional facilities because it is cheaper and more efficient to operate. At the same time it does not coddle criminals, nor violate fundamental human rights. An electronic innovation is aggression detectors, which are devices that register characteristic sounds of human aggression, while filtering out normal ambient conversation. Audible signs of anger, fear, and panic usually precede physical violence. When aggression is detected, the device activates an alarm in the nearest control room, permitting timely intervention.
In Austria, architect Josef Hohensinn considered an element of home-comfort in the design for his new Justice and Detention Centre in Leoben. At Leoben, eligible prisoners in groups up to 13 are housed in a wing of their own and can move freely among the cells and communal spaces. Hohensinn also provided the opportunity of stepping out for fresh air, so each communal section has a loggia (an open-air area similar to a courtyard or porch)—with bars.
Beat the rap
If these new prison concepts sound more like men’s retreats than real prisons it’s because designers sense what no one likes to admit—the current prison system is flawed and maybe unreformable, at least if the point of imprisonment is rehabilitation.
“We can make prisons better but we cannot make them work,” says Peter Moskos, a professor of Law and Police Science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and author of “Cops in the Hood.” “Prisons will always fail at their goal of reducing crime because rehabilitation, if it stands any chance of success, must be separated from incarceration.”