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Prisoner reoffending rates in Australia are at a critical level.
Nearly half of Australia’s 36,000 inmates will return to jail within two years of release; costing the Government billions.
Premier Mike Baird recently turned his attention to the issue, declaring in a recent report his intent to decrease recidivism by five per cent within three years.
An impressive target – but how should the Government go about achieving it?
One approach is to reform legislation so that fewer criminals end up incarcerated in the first place. However, removing the threat of prison from certain crimes is likely to have a perverse effect on offending rates.
Besides, this achieves little for Australia’s existing – and substantial – prison population who remain stuck in the ‘revolving door’ system.
An alternative and increasingly popular approach is to improve the rehabilitative function of prisons through innovations in design, management and architecture.
Nordic nations – which boast recidivism rates as low as 20% – have been paving the way in the arena.
These countries have for many years conceptualised prisons differently – viewing them as a place of “restorative justice” and rehabilitation.
Norwegian prisons are significantly less punitive, prioritising space, comfort, privacy and independence to inmates. Humanising the correctional environment, whilst still maintaining necessary security.
In contrast, Australia’s political mantra of being tough on crime, combined with an often late and reactive decision to rapidly increase prison bed numbers, has created a prison system more aligned to a punishment model.
“It may be controversial and counterintuitive to favour the Nordic approach when faced with such immediate needs; but the offending and reoffending rates of these countries continue to remain at a far superior level than nations with more punitive prison systems. Surely we can’t ignore that?” says NBRS ARCHITECTURE Director, Rodney Drayton [pictured below].
The success of avant-garde prisons has led to the Government eliciting the support and strategic advice of architectural firms and moving towards a PPP procurement model, where the private sector can be incentivized on the longer term correctional and rehabilitative outcomes.
NBRS, who’s first foray into correctional architecture was the Sulman Award winning Parklea Correctional Centre over 30 years ago, have more recently turned their hands to providing strategic and technical advice to State and Territory Governments on this matter.
Their models draw upon extensive Psychological research and emphasise the role of factors like acoustics, materials, airflow and natural light in generating positive social outcomes.
NBRS have also carried out widespread local research, including work with leaders from indigenous communities through their involvement on the Darwin Correctional Precinct and Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison in Kalgoorle.
“Prisons with high indigenous inmate populations need a particular architectural response, as the sensitivities around social, language and nation groupings are more critical, whilst the habitation norms allow for larger co-sleeping, outdoor sleeping and household style environments, for example” says Drayton.
With overcrowding on the increase, it is vital that prisons move towards more intelligent designs and increase the sum of their parts.
Hear more from NBRS ARCHITECTURE about the role of architecture, design and management in reducing recidivism at Informa’s forthcoming Prisons 2016 conference.