Prisons are places to punish the wrongdoers in society and for the last few hundred years they have followed a conventional design with conventional methods of punishment. Some have attempted to reform design and concept to minimise reoffending rates while still keeping punishment at its core. Some become free entities by design or accident. Here is a list of the most unusual prison designs and concepts
1. San Pedro, Bolivia
Most prisons are places of incarceration. Understandable as the people inside them are criminals and are suffering punishment. But what if creating a market and providing jobs within the walls could provide a degree of rehabilitation? San Pedro charges inmates ‘rent’ for the cells which means they have to work inside the walls ‘and as there are no guards it becomes one huge social experiment in self-sufficiency and self-control. There are farms, market stalls and restaurants ‘ effectively a town within the prison.
2. Justizzentrum Leoben, Austria
‘Some prisons are like hotels!’ goes the complaint of those who think that prisons are becoming too lax in the modern era. For one prison in Austria that is certainly true. This minimum security prison does indeed look like a 5 star hotel. There are few guards, few cameras and the walls are made of steel and (shatterproof) glass rather than stone and iron bars. The same rules apply though ‘ those who are incarcerated cannot leave (unless they have permission as in a normal open prison)
3. Sark Prison
The Channel Island between the French and British coasts boasts the world’s smallest prison ‘ its capacity is just two people. It looks more like a public toilet but it is used as overnight stays for those who have had a little too much to drink. There are other prisons on the island and this one is just a temporary stop over with the full intention of releasing the inmate the following morning. Sark is the last remaining bastion of feudalism in Europe
4. Aranjuez Prison, Spain
As a family oriented country, Spain didn’t think it appropriate for children to be deprived of a parent who was incarcerated. To that end, the prison authorities have family rooms where spouses and children can come and visit and effectively bond with a parent figure while the child is still in their earliest years. The rooms look cosy, like family home rooms might do and have toys and other games so that the families can spend quality time together
5. Bastoey Prison, Norway
Known as the eco-prison, Bastoey is on a small Norwegian island (about one square mile) and it seeks to teach inmates about care for the environment. Using solar panels to power the complex, it encourages and promotes growing organic produce. It must be working as the reoffending rate for inmates is around 16%. It is a low security prison that as well as teaching practical skills, allows inmates to learn horseback riding and play tennis. Its only link is a strictly controlled ferry, not, it seems, that anyone would want to escape!
6. Cereso Chetumal, Mexico
Imagine a prison where getting beaten up in the showers doesn’t happen. Imagine a prison where inmates are encouraged to use boxing matches to settle disputes. The most gentlemanly violent sport in the world means that the prison has seen no other form of violence for over ten years. Prisoners report a cosy life with a high quality diet and televisions in their cells. They can also learn crafts that they might earn a trade upon release and while inside can sell to tourists to raise money
7. Halden Prison, Norway
Considered the most humane prison in the world, it feels like a mid-range hotel with a library, comfortable furniture, televisions in the rooms, a sound studio and planned jogging trails. There are shared bathrooms (one to every twelve cells) and shared kitchens too. As with Bastoey, the re-offending rate is low compared to other prisons and prisoners are regularly asked how the experience might be improved. You would think though that this was a low security or open prison ‘ it isn’t; it hosts some of the country’s worst offenders
8. Canto Grande, Peru
Though now closed, it was used to house Communist opponents of the Peruvian regime’¦ and they quickly turned their Marxist philosophy to practical use. Guards became obsolete as inmates took control of the running of the facility, educated each other in the works of the Communist thinkers, organised work patterns, education and working out the hierarchy ‘ all for the common good of the inmates and the prison. The prisoner-run prison came to a brutal end in 1992 when government troops were sent in, leaving dozens dead. Evidence suggested that the prisoners had been manufacturing weapons
9. Squirrel Cage, Iowa
Though this closed in 1969, it qualifies as one of the most unusual prison designs. Its premise was to keep staffing levels at a minimum and for maximum security to remain fundamental to incarceration. On the outside it looked typically like a small 19th century jail house but on the inside it had revolving cells. This meant that a single jailer could sit at the centre of the jail and see all inmates all of the time, not needing to do his nightly rounds.
10. High Down Prison, England
There is nothing unusual about this prison in itself ‘ it is a normal high security prison in the United Kingdom. However, what is at the centre is highly unusual ‘ it is home to a gourmet restaurant known as ‘The Clink’. Politicians, TV celebrities and other high-flyers looking for first class food experience have visited the prison and been impressed. All of the staff (except the restaurant manager) are prisoners and to work there is seen as a prestigious move and an opportunity to become a chef in the outside world. It had its own TV documentary in 2011 called The Prison Restaurant
In some cases above, prison authorities have gone above and beyond what might be considered normal prison function, design and concept. Some of the more modern and liberal-approached prisons might have the conservative elements in their relative countries grumbling about going soft on crime, but they are reporting lower reoffending rates.