Human dignity and prison design

The architecture and design of a facility have a significant impact on the people working and living within its walls. A range of factors—light, color, air quality, and acoustics, among others—can impact people’s mental and physical well-being and, thus, their dignity. 

A prison system that prioritizes human dignity could renovate existing spaces or design new facilities to include some of the features below. 

  • Private, individual rooms that have adjoining private bathrooms, with doors to which prison residents hold the key. These should also provide
    • clear (rather than opaque) windows that open to allow for natural airflow;
    • light switches that allow incarcerated people to control artificial light; and
    • space for incarcerated people to display and store photographs and other personal possessions.
  • A temperate environment that is adequately warm in the winter and safely cool in the summer, including working heat and air conditioning. 
  • A variety of room types for a full range of activities, including
    • an adequate numbers of classrooms, computer labs, libraries, and workshops;
    • quiet group spaces for studying, letter writing, and reading; and
    • private rooms for behavioral and mental health counseling, religious counseling, legal discussions, and phone calls.

For a vision of how to bring these architectural and design features to life, see an example of an American prison as reimagined by MASS Design Group, at

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a See generally James Krueger and John A. Macallister, “How to Design a Prison that Actually Comforts and Rehabilitates Inmates,” Fast Company, April 30, 2015,