Nowadays, most prison designs incorporate direct or indirect surveillance: Instead of isolating the inmates into cells, it’s more common to have “pods”, clustered together around a central control station. Inmates tend to spend the majority of their time together in communal areas. Officers are constantly monitoring and interfacing with inmates get more information.
A jail designed around pods is thought to have a higher cost efficiency and to foster a positive environment, which can help inmates to recover.
It is a relatively new design. Direct supervision wasn’t recognized as a formal concept by the National Institute of Corrections until 1983. How did we arrive at this point?
Modern prisons have their roots in the “prison explosion” of the late 1800s. In the late 1700s, under the influence of Catholicism, the Catholic church encouraged communities to use prison as a form of punishment rather than traditional methods of exile, death or mutilation. Prison construction in England was a result of the Revolution, which had stopped authorities from simply banishing criminals to America. Construction booms were also seen in America due to the expansion of civilisation and criminal laws.
In 1823, the Gaols Act introduced the idea of classifying inmates. The prison designs of this period reflected that concept. The prison architect began using geometric shapes, such as squares, rectangles and circles.
The Panopticon is the most well-known prison of that period, designed by prison reform activist Jeremy Bentham. Panopticon is a concept that consists of a building in which the inmate’s cells are built along the outer wall and the keepers gallery rises up in the centre. It allowed for the keeper to see the inmates, without being seen by them. Bentham suggested that the inmates wouldn’t need to be constantly monitored because they won’t be aware of when they are being observed. This would force them to always behave.
Few prisons have been built according to Panopticon traditions in the United States. Stateville in Illinois, constructed between 1916 and 1925 with the help of inmates, is perhaps the best known. It was possible to access the central guard tower from underground, allowing additional officers to reach any disturbed cellblock. Bentham had a grand vision to create a prison that was revolutionary and would reduce prison costs, while also promoting inmate reform via menial labour. However, Bentham’s Panopticon prison did not allow for the proper housing of prisoner. Poor ventilation and dampness in the cells led to illnesses and high mortality rates. In the end, overcrowding stopped the use of solitary confinement for unruly prisoner.
However, the Panopticon’s design was influential in the development of a new design principle: Radial Design. Bentham’s central building, which houses the keeper in this version of his design is retained. However, prison wings or corridors are radiated out like spokes from a wheel. The raised cell design allowed better heating, ventilation and was a barrier to prisoners digging under the floor. Lack of cleanliness and difficulty for keepers in inspecting the prisoners are two of the limitations that continue to create problems.
A lack of guidelines from the federal government or states led to an evolution of prison design around the turn-of-the century. Most prisons, however, still tried to restrict prisoner interaction. The “telephone pole design” was most popular in the 1930s & 40s. It consisted of an inner corridor and housing wings at 90-degree angles to the central corridor. Prisons that were built this way included Maryland Reformatory and Soledad State Prison, both in California.
The prison construction boom in the U.S. began after WWII. It was the medical approach to criminal justice that influenced this building boom. In the medical model of criminal justice, the society was responsible for diagnosing and curing an offender’s illness. This illness could have been caused by a psychological issue (mental illness), societal (familial environment), economics (unemployed), physiological or sociological. Prisons took on the responsibility of rehabilitating criminals and successfully returning to society.
Mid-1970s societal changes, such as the rise in crime, conservatism of public opinion, and high recidivism, forced a shift to a more “serious” approach towards criminals. In 1974 the “Martinson-report” put an end to the medical model. Martinson explained the lack of effectiveness in treatment programs. He also argued that rehab was not always successful. Martinson’s ideas led to the creation of the Justice Model of Criminal Justice. In the 1960s, society started to accept that offenders were personally responsible for their crimes. They weren’t “sick,” and they had to be punished. No longer were punishments dependent on treatment success, but instead had a fixed duration. The correctional system was reorganized to have a single core purpose: control of inmates in an orderly and secure manner, rather than focusing on their rehabilitation.
Direct Supervision and the New Standards
In order to fully grasp the new phase of prison design we need to know more than just about the change from the model medical to that of justice. In addition, we need to recognize three major influences that influenced corrections throughout the second half the 20th Century:
1). After World War II, the corrections sector experienced a move towards a more administrative model. Instead of allowing patronage, personal gains were no longer allowed. Competence, accountability and responsibility was emphasized. Priority was given to the selection of personnel, training, refining of chain of commands, and specializations in accounting, medical, legal planning, maintenance, and fiscal planning.
2). The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice was created by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 to deal with national crime and give recommendations on improving functions of police, courts and corrections. According to the corrections report, the main factor for effectiveness is having enough qualified staff. The report called for dramatic improvements in selection, training and supervision of correctional staff. Offenders were advised to use community programs rather than incarceration. They could also upgrade their educational and vocational programs, improve prison industries, expand graduated release programs, and provide separate treatment for certain offender groups. In part, this report was responsible for creating the first correctional standard. These standards became the basis of those adopted by the American Correctional Association Commission on Accreditation.
3). In this period, prisoner lawsuits were successfully brought against correctional institutions for violations of their civil rights under federal law using both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the habeas corpus. As a result, more correctional facilities were forced to operate under court orders.
Direct Supervision was born out of these three threads: the development of the bureaucratic system, the managerial function and the judicial intervention. Direct Supervision, which combines management and operation philosophy with design features and training for staff, places officers directly in contact and in constant communication with the prisoners. They can get to know them and identify and react to problems before they become serious. The officers also have a greater responsibility for the management, supervision, and control of daily operations of direct supervision housing units, as they are located within them. Inmates and officers have credited Direct Supervision with creating a less stressful, more positive environment, as well as reducing crime and vandalism.
Direct Supervision not only required a different approach to jail management, but also a change in prison architecture. Local jails have traditionally had a linear layout, consisting of rectangular structures with one-cell cells located at right angles. As a result, the surveillance was intermittent. The “Podular remote” cellblock was designed to allow officers greater control over the cells by incorporating a centred control area. The design of the cellblocks created a mentality that pitted officers against inmates, as the bars, walls and windows separated them. The inmates felt a sense of tension whenever the officers crossed into “their” area. Direct Supervision removes the walls, puts control stations in inmate areas and allows inmates to be together rather than in their cells. The inmates know they are being closely monitored, the officers have quick access to resolve any issues that may arise and electronic monitoring provides additional protection for officers.
First jail with Direct Supervision was opened in Contra Costa in California in 1981. This was the outcome of a Federal Bureau of Prisons design contest between three companies from New York City, Chicago, and San Diego. Each firm came up similar designs that met the criteria of BOP for active and continual inmate supervision. The model has been widely adopted in America today.