chapter  1
14 Pages

The Aesthetics and Anaesthetics of Prison Architecture

ByYvonne Jewkes

Ironically, here, the aesthetics of incarceration are considered highly desirable but for earlier occupants of HMP Oxford and, indeed, for most prison inmates, penal aesthetics might more accurately be described as anaesthetics, whereby the senses are blunted or depressed.8 In the UK, anaesthetic design is perhaps best exemplied by the prisons established in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Albany, Long Lartin and Gartree; all of them functional, featureless and concrete. As Peter Wayne puts it:

Many of these prisons were established at the height of penal welfarism and they echo the austere styles of high, progressive modernism.10 Whether their design simply reected what was considered to be humanely functional and most likely to meet the therapeutic goals of punishment at this time, or whether it was a knowing strategy to reassure the public that penal welfarism did not equate to leniency, is open to debate. Either way, they share a melancholy and sometimes brutal external appearance while, inside, they are characterized by bland uniformity in colour, texture, lighting and levels. Even more recently, since the early 1990s, the introduction of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) has paved the way for contracts to be awarded for the entire design, construction, management and nance (DCMF) of a prison, and new penal institutions have been built with the imperatives of eciency and security in mind, while keeping costs to a minimum. Prisons operated by Serco, G4S and Kalyx all share a countenance that is antithetical to

their Victorian predecessors, yet not as stark and sombre as the post-Mountbatten (1966) prisons. Dull, unassuming and uniform in appearance, the typical hallmarks of prison exteriors built in the last twenty years are vast expanses of brick, few (small) windows and no unnecessary ornamentation or decoration. In general they look rather like private hospitals, no-frills chain hotels, or the kind of nondescript corporate HQ you might expect to nd in a business park.11