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Prison Workshops

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Prison Workshops 

In 1966 I was invited to work in London with Christopher Alexander and Barry Poyner, formulating a theory which would later be known as A Pattern Language a system of objectifying the design of space and organisations based upon observed human behaviour. In 1967, the new methodology was trialled. The very first use of A Pattern Language was therefore here, in the design of a brief for Prison Workshops for the Ministry of Public Building and Works in association with the Ministry of Justice. It seemed like a straightforward assignment at the time - go into prisons, watch how the staff and inmates behave, and then design a pattern language (a set of behaviour-related spatial arrangements) that might lead to more therapeutic outcomes and to a reduction in the recidivism rate.
 
What we were told at the time, was that the programme was designed to have the inmates "acquire the habit of work" so that they could get and hold a job when released. What we were not told - the real agenda, of course, was to reduce the prison budget by having the inmates work at low rates in repetitive-task jobs so that Corrections could compete with outside labour rates and make a profit. In other words, the therapeutic intent was a sham to mask the actual intent of the programme. For me personally, this contradiction became increasingly evident the more I experienced the reality on the inside of the prisons - culminating in a visit to Strangeways priison in Salford, Manchester, where I came face to face with one of my old school fellows - now serving time for robbery. It was difficult not to feel a mixed sense of  good fortune and guilt as I in my suit and tie watched him labour under the most appaling conditions under the ever-watchful eyes of the "screws".
 
I wrote my report - with suipporting evidence from two prison psychologists - to say that the "habit of work" was the least of the things that the inmates needed to influence their propensity for recidivism.. The infidelity of wives left alone nfor too long, an inability to adjust to "normal" valuues and perspectives after years of living in a brotherhood of criminality, the chronic levels of unemployment in the "outside" world - each of these individually and collectively far outweighed the need to acquire a work-habit. The Home office withdrew my report withing 24 hours and thought that that was the end of the matter. E I could stand the institutionalised deceit and hypocricy no longer and, deciding that I could no lonfger be associated with such a significant lie (that impacted mainly and directly on those from my own working-class background,  spilled the truth to a friend who worked for the Sunday Times. The result was a double-page spread in the Insight investigative column the following Sunday. After that, my days of working for the British Government were numbered.
 
Below are some of the programme diagrammes that came out of the study. Following these is a reflective comment written at the time. and following a visit to Pentonville Prison in London. 
 

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The programming theory was based upon the resolution of "Conflict" between competing behavioural "Tendencies" (based upon models of Approach-Avoidance Conflict in Behavioural Psychology. Each conflict was resolved by formal spatial arrangements and these were gradually integrated into an overall "conflict-free" arrangement.
 
To review the reflective commentary on the Pentonville experience, click here. 
 
Five years after this piece was written, I was living in California and was busy writing research proposals into the design of Therapeutic Prisons. That research took me into several of california's correctional facilities. After one visit to San Quentin Federal Penitentiary, I wrote another piece, published in Architectural Design Magazine,entitled San Quentin Blues. To download that PDF click here .
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