CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
From Punishing to Healing
Correctional facilities are not addressing the current issues that American society is encountering. Locking people up is not solving the deep-rooted social problems that pervade society, it is only wasting resources while feeding a vicious cycle with no hope of ending.
Over 600,000 individuals are released from prison annually, and 75% of them are rearrested within five years of their release. While being incarcerated, inmates receive minimal preparation which makes their re-entry into communities challenging; additionally, a criminal conviction limits employment, housing and social services assistance.(1)
National data shows that nearly 50,000 people a year enter shelters directly after release from correctional facilities. As a consequence, many of these individuals are caught in a revolving door between homelessness and incarceration, bouncing week after week between the streets, shelter, and jails.(2)
“Though only 5% of the world’s population lives in the United States, it is home to 25% of the world’s prison population. Not only does the current overpopulated, under funded system hurt those incarcerated, it also digs deeper into the pockets of taxpaying Americans.”(3) However, thinking beyond the economic cost of incarceration, the issue is systemically hurting families, communities and society in general. The bottom line is that 95% of the incarcerated population will be released at some point.(4) Are we as a society taking the right measures to receive them as our neighbors, co-workers or employees? What would happen if instead of having a punitive system that penalizes people and sinks them deeper into the system, we could offer a new start?
Correctional facilities should be places for healing and transformation for both inmates and their communities. My project proposes a model that aims to address the critical issues that lead to recidivism by restructuring the dynamics of correctional facilities. The proposal is based on the Chicago Cook County Jail (one of the largest mental health providers in the US), and the goal is to turn the jail facility into a campus where inmates regain control of their daily activities, promoting a sense of responsibility and trust. Inmates would be offered multiple opportunities to transition successfully into society without falling back into the endless cycle of crime and imprisonment.
Cook County Jail is the largest single site jail in the United States, with an average population of 6,000 inmates (male and female), from which about 30% suffer from mental conditions. The Jail employs approximately 3,500 correctional officers in addition to supporting staff.
The aim of my proposal is to create therapeutic environments to help mitigate stress and violence; an opportunity to heal in a space that promotes successful reintegration to society. As a response, the proposal is mainly a landscape intervention that maximizes the use of exterior spaces and uses them as healing areas. Using evidence-based design, the proposal includes the following principles:
– MOBILITY: Allowing inmates to move freely within the jail campus
– TRUST: Communal spaces fully maintained by inmates
– ACCOUNTABILITY: Allowing inmates to make their own decisions
The jail complex is transformed into an open campus that allows inmates to have free mobility. The perimeter wall that encloses the complex will be transformed from a harsh looking barbed wire wall into a green mound in addition to other natural elements as a containment strategy.
Additionally, the programming of these spaces includes: food gardens, healing gardens and a farm (implementing animal therapy as a healing mechanism). In the case of interior areas, the healing strategies proposed are: Views of nature, natural light and the ability to control spaces.
The result of implementing these strategies will be of benefit to:
– Helping them prepare to transition into society
– Stopping the institutionalization syndrome
– Giving inmates the opportunity to be active citizens rather than “burdens” to society
– Creating an environment where staff thrives and feels satisfied with their jobs
– Appropriate training to handle mental disorder conditions
– Building confidence to accept ex-offenders back into society
– Regain trust in family structure
1 – From prisons to communities: Confronting re-entry challenges and social inequality
What makes re-entry into communities challenging? American Psychological Association. www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/indicator/2018/03/prisons-to-communities
2- Connecting People Returning from Incarceration with Housing and Homelessness Assistance, United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, March 2016, www.usich.gov/resources/uploads/asset_library/Reentry_Housing_Resource_Tipsheet_Final.pdf
3- Hillary Rodham Clinton speech on criminal justice at Columbia University, April 29, 2015
4- Reentry Trends In The U.S., Bureau of Justice Statistics, https://www.bjs.gov/content/reentry/reentry.cfm