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Government told to make prisons more like the rest of society’s spaces

Prisons should be designed to be more like the outside world, a group of leading figures has told the government.

The panel, led by construction consultants Gleeds, said creating prison conditions similar to living conditions in society was critical to rehabilitating prisoners.

Its report, Rehabilitation by Design, called for wider use of non-custodial sentences in England and Wales, coupled with fewer, smaller jails.

‘A more modest prison planning strategy (in size and scope) would enable prison architects and designers to embrace the principle of normalisation,’ said the study.

‘Prison conditions that, as far as possible, approximate to normal living and working conditions in society are vital to successful rehabilitation.’

The report added that prisons should be easily accessible by car and public transport and have welcoming visitor centres.

‘Prisoners’ families have huge rehabilitative potential because they can change a stigmatised identity,’ it said. ‘Desistance literature teaches us that if an offender feels part of a pro-social group, then they can begin to re-imagine themselves, and in turn re-imagine their life.’

Jails should also be designed to offer pleasant working environments for staff, who can then be better at their jobs, said the Gleeds-led panel.

‘Both staff and prisoners benefit from natural light with views of nature, noise control/good acoustics, comfortable temperatures, time spent each day in a variety of spaces including outdoors, few barriers between staff and prisoners, good communications, lack of boredom, ability to address personal issues, motivation to improve oneself, and of course safety and security.’

Gleeds worldwide chairman Richard Steer said: ‘By reviewing the way in which we design and operate our facilities we have the chance to make some truly positive changes to the criminal justice system, reducing reoffending rates and making our prisons both safer and more efficient for inmates and staff.’

Professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers contributed to the Gleeds-led report, as did University of Brighton professor of criminology Yvonne Jewkes, University of Brighton senior lecturer in criminology Hannah Thurston, Stanford University professor of psychiatry Keith Humphreys, American justice facility design consultant Mark Goldman, and John Patience, chief executive of the Nehemiah Project charity.

The government last year announced plans to build five new jails this parliament. Justice secretary at the time Michael Gove said in November 2015: ‘This investment will mean we can replace ageing and ineffective Victorian prisons with new facilities fit for the modern world. We will be able to design out the dark corners which too often facilitate violence and drug-taking.’