Rethinking Private Corrections

ARCH 4020: Mutable Architectures Thesis//Professor Alex Yuen//UVA Architecture Spring 2021

The United States is leading countries worldwide in incarcerations per 100,000 of the population. Roughly 2.12 million people were incarcerated in the United States in 2020. As millions of people go through the prison system, most come out traumatized, poorer, and with more problems than they went in with. While so many people are going through the prison system, nearly 67% return back to the system around three years after release.

Santa Fe, New Mexico shares these issues of high incarceration rates and high recidivism rates. Their current penitentiary system focuses on an architecture of containment, which degrades the lives of the inmates and staff that inhabit these spaces. Nearly 50% of their prisons are private facilities which profit off having more bodies in cells. Imagine changing the goal of the private correctional facilities to lower recidivism rates and helping restore inmate lives to better connect in their local communities.

Empathic design, reformative justice, and sustainable ecologies can reform the architecture of the American Prison, creating pathways of rehabilitation for prisoners to re-enter society. Architecture can play a role in facilitating networks of support to uplift inmates’ health, education, career prospects, and more. This project is a new model of private correctional facility which focuses on community-based development. The development places correctional facilities and public space in conversation with one another to bolster the relationship between the inmates and their surrounding community.

By creating a rehabilitative correctional facility and public park, the development gives both the incarcerated and the local community pathways of restoration. The natural Santa Fe environment is pulled into the correctional system to create restorative landscapes that bolster the success of inmates’ rehabilitation process. While most prisons operate to contain inmates, this correctional facility works with prisoners to build up their identities as community members within a healing landscape. Reformative justice comes through restorative design.

“It is said that 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.” - Nelson Mandela

Interested in this topic and want more information? Read my article on the Financial Argument for Prison Reform