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Correctional Facilities Designed as Healing Environments

By Robert Boraks, Director, Parkin Architects Limited

Nelson Mandela once said: No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.

If a prison is built on the basis of fear, what does this reveal about our society?

At Parkin, we see correctional facitities as healing environments. Studies show up to 50 percent of people in such facilities have a psychological or mental health issue. We can put these individuals in a cell where they will be punished and degraded, or we can try to heal them. We can attempt to decipher ways to ensure this person does not re-offend, which is a much greater safety valve for society than locking him up in isolation.

Blurring the Lines Between Correctional Facilities and Healthcare Facilities

When people think of correctional facilities, they think of metal bars, hard, concrete walls and steel toilets. Parkin takes a much different approach in its designs. We aim to create normative environments – facilities with ceramic toilets, carpet and linoleum flooring, attractive wood finishes, even windows that open. We aim to provide an environment that supports the reintegration of sentenced individuals back into society.

Of course, this is not to say we are jeopardizing the security of these facilities. The levels of mobility for those placed in maximum-security facilities depend upon how each individual is classified.

The aim of our designs is to take away the tension and fear associated with traditional correctional facilities. Doing so goes a long way in decompressing the negative attitudes often found within penitentiary walls – and this is an important element for rehabilitation and healing.

Parkin Correctional Facility Designs

Parkin is at the helm of a new paradigm in Canada called Direct Supervision, which is based on new visions and new operational methodologies involving a significant level of interaction among guards, community volunteers, inmates and even victims.

We are using this approach now for a new correctional facility design in Newfoundland.  We previously implemented the Direct Supervision paradigm in a number of other facilities including Windsor’s South West Detention Facility, Toronto South Detention Facility and the Rankin Inlet Healing Facility, which opened in February 2012.

The Rankin project was recently submitted for adjudication to Behavioral Health, an American trade magazine dedicated to psychiatric issues. The adjudicators noted that the Rankin facilitywould make a better psychiatric hospital than at least 95 percent of the facilities that are in use as psychiatric hospitals today.

The Rankin facility was very successful in its efforts to attract the community into the building. Its spaces were designed with the purpose of creating opportunities for dialogue to occur with the inmates and community members before they were released back into society. These avenues of interaction were all aimed at demystifying the fear attached to correctional facilities.

Designing to Improve Society

We see corrections as a holistic approach. It’s not only about healing the sentenced, but also about healing the societies, and the victims of crimes.

In order to extend the concept of healing, we involve as many stakeholders as possible in the design of correctional facilities – not just prison guards or police – but social workers, educators, family members, even neighbours. Everyone is part of the solution.

We have been given the opportunity to help move society’s yardsticks; we’re helping to ensure that when we look at a correctional facility, as Mandela says, it does reflect the values of our society. If we’re able to deliver buildings that improve society, then we are doing our jobs.

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