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Effective Prison Design Can Reduce Sexual Abuses

September 29th, 2009

Sexual abuse in prisons is as old as prisons themselves. While knowledge of these occurrences is prevalent, only recently have guidelines and standards for prisons to follow in effort to prevent abuses come into fruition. The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC), an eight-member panel formed under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, released its final report on June 23 and proposed standards to prevent, detect, respond to as well as monitor sexual abuse of incarcerated or detained individuals throughout the United States.

  • NPREC reported more than 60,000 inmates are sexually abused every year. 
  • Experts estimated that the total number of inmates in the US who have been sexually assaulted over the past 20 years could exceed 1 million. 

Along with prison administrators providing education programs and instilling safer cultures, architects can design correctional facilities that through function and layout address issues causing the extreme amount of sexual victimization cases. Catalysts for more sexual abuse cases that can be addressed through design include:

  • Segregating prison populations based on evidence-based offender classification will provide safe havens for prison populations more likely to be sexually abused. Youth, small stature, homosexual inmates with a lack of experience in correctional facilities or with mental illnesses appear to be at increased the risk of sexual victimization by other prisoners. While classification and segregation is necessary, it is also important to not allow these populations to be left out of programming. 
  • Overcrowded facilities are harder to supervise and are harder to carve out spaces for vulnerable prisoners. Inmates in crowed areas often are more aggressive and feel more tension provoking more assaults. Programming that creates a culture that prevents sexual assault and teaches imamates to protect themselves becomes inadequate as the prison itself is stretched to cater to large population. 
  • Prison designs that promote the most efficient supervision will provide the most safety for all inmates and staff. Correction facility designs such as podular, direct supervision allow the most unobstructed view of inmates in a particular are of a detention facility. Direct supervision also allows correction officers to interact with inmates and are more able to avert problem situations. 
  • Understanding the prison structure and identifying problem areas where assaults are likely to occur will lessen the amount of victimizations. Employing surveillance cameras in these areas and understanding prison flow in the predesign process will eliminate these unsupervised places.
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