As momentum to end mass incarceration grows, some cities and architecture firms believe that building “more humane” prisons and jails will help solve key parts of the nation’s incarceration problem, reports Architecture Digest. Cities such as San Diego; San Mateo, California; Birmingham, Alabama; Denver; Salt Lake City; and Nashville are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into building new correctional facilities boasting sunlight, air, greenery, and more programming space. The country’s largest and most costly reform effort is happening in New York City. The landmark city’s $8.16 billion plan promises to close its largest, most notorious jail, Rikers Island, by 2028 and replace it with new, borough-based jails in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn.
After studying the best practices of some of Europe’s most advanced jails and prisons, York City’s Department of Design and Construction issued guidelines for the new jail designs requiring each of the four new jails to allow for movement, provide light, greenery, security, and spaces for rehabilitation, education, and visitation. However, prison abolitionists believe that America’s correctional facilities harm people more than they help and insist that jails should be shuttered and resources instead invested in alternative strategies that are restorative, not punitive. In 2003, the Prison Design Boycott for Alternatives to Incarceration launched a petition to the American Institute of Architects asking the trade association to end the design of spaces for execution and torture, including solitary confinement. In October 2020, the New York chapter of American Institute of Architects asked architects to stop designing correctional facilities until the justice system applies the law “without racial bias.”