How to build for success: prison design and infrastructure as a tool for rehabilitation

Dr Marayca López24th July 2014


Rob Allen, 04th Aug 2014 at 16:32

Thanks for this very insightful piece Marayca. A couple of questions.

Is there any global organisation that collects and disseminates examples of good practice and research findings in the field of design and construction ?

Do you know if prisoners themselves are ever asked about what they value in terms of infrastructure? Its easy to guess but maybe there would be some surprises.

Finally, do you think we need some more detailed international standards for prison construction in the developing world in particular ? or for particular groups such as young offenders or women ?



EVELYNE BUTICHI, 24th Aug 2014 at 11:40

This is very insightful and Thumbs up. Kindly I wish to enquire if there is any organization that can fund a project on the implementation of the UN-Rules for treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders, as an organization we are interested in doing the same.
Thank you.

Marayca, 26th Aug 2014 at 20:19

Rob, thank you so much for contributing to this blog with your interesting questions. Here are my modest answers:

1) The International Corrections and Prison Association (ICPA) has a “training section” where two prison planning guides are provided for people’s consultation. Additionally, within the ICPA, members of the Planning and Design Committee are working on creating a forum to collect standards and practices for prison planning and design from as many global sources as can be identified, as well as at creating linkages between known prison standards from the USA (American Correctional Association), UK, Australia and other nations and the UN Minimum Rules, ICRC and standards by other organizations and nations that address minimum physical plant guidelines.

However, I think that some of these design/construction minimum standards, besides being extremely vague, are obsolete and need to be revisited in light of modern, evidence-based practices and modern standards of operations drawn from the experience of various countries.

As an example, specific to the size of the cells (very important topic!), while a number of international instruments (i.e. United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, European Prison Rules, Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) provide guidance on minimum space requirements of prison cells/rooms per prisoner, there is no specific figure given to indicate what is considered an acceptable minimum amount of space to be provided for each prisoner. As I see it, there is a need to examine and standardize and globalize critical prison design guidelines.

2) I strongly believe that the planning of any correctional facility should include interviews with the several facility users (e.g. staff, program and services providers and inmates), where operational, programmatic and space requirements for each component of the facility are discussed as part of the programming process. At least this is the approach and methodology that “we” planners at CGL/RicciGreene constantly advocate.

I know of a prison design project called “The Creative Prison Project” that was conducted in England by Rideout in consultation/collaboration with SMS Alsop, Wates Construction Ltd and staff and prisoners of HMP Gartree in Market Harborough, Leicestershire. Information about the project background as well as the prisoners’ views can be found at and

As recently as last Sunday (24/08/2014), the following article was published in the Los Angeles Times: What kind of prison might the inmates design?
Coincident with my article in this blog, inmates recognized the value of features such as abundant daylight, views to the exterior, privacy and ample dayroom spaces. Omission of some other features mentioned in my article came as a surprise to me.

3) The social and economical realities of developing countries call for a separate set of guidelines as to provide a realistic and sustainable architectural response. On a similar note, please follow the link below to read the article that one of my colleagues wrote relative to the development of a “prototype prison” that could be quickly and inexpensively constructed in any location following the stabilization of post-conflict:

As I mentioned before, even though international bodies contain some minimum standards applicable worldwide, some of these standards are way too vague and superfluous. In my modest opinion, critical topics need to be identified and developed in greater detail relative to developing (and post-conflict) countries.

Similarly, the design and construction guidelines for juvenile facilities need to be different than those for adults. In this regard, organizations such as the American Correctional Association (ACA) and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) provide planning and design standards for secure and non-secure juvenile facilities, specifically tailored to address the unique needs of juvenile offenders.

I am of the opinion, that something similar should also be done relative to women’s correctional facilities (historically relegated to correctional afterthoughts). Research shows that the needs of female offenders differ from those of incarcerated men, as well as the manner in which females face their prison experience, therefore being essential that corrections professionals not only recognize and understand the unique needs of female offenders, but also be prepared to address them through gender-responsive prison facilities.

I hope the above has answered your questions and clarified your concerns. Thanks!

Sadi, 28th Mar 2015 at 13:35

Thank you for this great post Marayca.

I am a sixth year architecture student at Oxford School of Architecture – my thesis is based in Detroit. I am proposing a new concept for prison and prison education – Academy Retroit – Working with both non criminals and non-violent offenders Academy Retroit is a scheme which aims to provide positive impacts both socially and financially through various educational programs.

If by any chance you have a minute spare, I would so appreciate your view on this proposal. I have more information on my website:

Please feel free to write your view on the comments page. Many thanks! 🙂 🙂

GADE, 30th Apr 2015 at 12:15

Dear Marayca , this is very educative and socially handful write – up. I am a sociologist aiming at proffer means of punishment other than people incarceration. On second years field research now . Hear from me soon.

Mary Marshall, 27th May 2015 at 11:18

Dear Marayca
Thanks for your blog which I found very interesting since I am looking for literature on how design affects behaviour (I am concerned with people with dementia). You mention learning from the design of hospitals where there is evidence. Can you tell me where I would find this evidence? I do not know where to look.

Marayca, 27th May 2015 at 15:30

Dear Mary,

You might want to have a look at classic papers on evidence-based healthcare design conducted in hospital settings by Roger Ulrich, PhD.

For his most recent publications and additional articles, latest publications on this topic, please visit the following links:

I hope this helps.

Pooja Kinjawdekar, 23rd Sep 2015 at 06:06

Hi Marayca
your post is great. i am a fifth year student of architecture from india. my thesis is based on reinventing the typology of remand home for juvenile criminals and non criminals in my city Mumbai.
i will be really thankful if you can help me out for any examples to refer for such thesis, anything which can help me understand the psychology of such children. like any arcticles or projects..

Stanley Danny Chilembo, 13th Jan 2016 at 08:35

I find this article to be very interesting and educative in sense that it shows the reasons why the structures in prison needed to be designed in a way that will help persons incarcerated to develop positive attitudes.

jane, 02nd Apr 2016 at 07:03

thanks for this article its really nice and it gives great insights for students like me

just one question can you suggest like resources where i can find information regarding net square footage per occupant, or if i can make my own standards as a designer what are the components needed to formulate the area needed per person/occupant

thanks very much

Arshak Gasparyan, 07th Oct 2016 at 11:53

Dear Marayca,

Thanks for interesting and useful links between treatment with prisoners and the construction for them.
I have just 2 technical questions.
1. Is there any counting about the approximately costs for 1 prison for 1000 people
2. I am very much interested in developing an index for safer (or effective) prison for my Country (Armenia). So, can you share any information about any type of questioner and/or other type of tool for monitoring if the Prison is successful in line with rehabilitation activities within the Prison.

Thanks in advance

Parshva Parekh, 13th Dec 2017 at 08:13

Dear Marayca,
Thanks for sharing your perspective in such an interesting way, it was very helpful.
I am an architecture student from India and have taken juvenile correction centre as my final year dissertation topic. I would be grateful if you help me in understanding how architecture affects child psychological.
I’ll be grateful if you can share some references regarding my topic.
Thanks in advance.

Richard Forbes, 27th Apr 2020 at 22:56

Have you considered how creating ideal prison cells could be combined with research for dealing with medical need for social isolation?

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