Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Rethinking Carceral Environments During and After COVID-19

Rethinking Carceral Environments During and After COVID-19

MASS Design Group. “Rethinking Carceral Environments During and After COVID-19.” Mass Design Group, May 15, 2020.

Increasingly media, advocates, and correctional leaders and speaking out about the dangers the coronavirus poses for those who live and work in prisons, jails, and detention centers. As a result, many states are beginning depopulation efforts to make room for social distancing. This document focuses on repurposing spaces for those who remain in these facilities after decarceration and presents models for carceral environments that are more restorative (i.e., Norway, Finland, Germany, South Carolina, Connecticut, and North Dakota). The guidance presents practical strategies to help facilitate the achievement of safer spaces for communities—which do not require major changes to a facility’s physical structure—including:

  • Depopulating and converting double and triple bunked cells into single rooms or program spaces
  • Instead of using every cell, aspire to use every other cell, so that people do not share adjoining vents
  • Where possible, make spaces self-sufficient, for example by establishing small kitchens/kitchenettes or laundry facilities within housing units
  • In medical spaces within prisons, use signage or paint doors to notify individuals when they are transitioning into or out of areas where they may be at high risk of contagion, and locate PPE donning and doffing spaces at the thresholds.
  • Highlight high-touch surfaces (like door handles, handrails, tabletops, and telephones) with bright-colored paint, tape, and/or signage to reinforce hand-washing practices
  • Normalize spaces by introducing softer furniture and plants as well as natural, and porous materials (surfaces on which the virus has a shorter lifespan) to create a calmer environment and release tension

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Keywords: physical plant, architecture, building, coronavirus, space.