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Environment Psychology

The guide uses evidence from environmental psychology to cite areas of design that support better health and wellbeing of people residing in, working in and visiting prisons. Focusing on planning processes, construction methods, layout, materials, landscape, lighting & atmosphere and accessibility, the guidance was developed in direct consultation with prisoners and staff at the UK’s new prison programme.

While prison design has historically sought to deprive incarcerated people of their ‘sense of self’ recent findings suggest that supporting a strong and positive sense of identity is critical to the rehabilitative function of these spaces. Especially for those serving short sentences or nearing the end of longer terms, incarceration environments fostering a sense of normality, autonomy, positive growth and constructive social interactions are key to successful re-integration in society.

Recent studies have found significant wellbeing benefits from varying the light spectrum throughout the day in hospitals. Dynamic and diffused light, from both natural and artificial sources, positively impacts circadian system and is linked to increased visual comfort. Beyond optimising natural light resources, wellbeing can be enhanced through refining the intensity, quality, direction, variability and control of light sources. Simple arrangements such as providing task lighting in work spaces and curtains in living spaces enables control of lighting conditions, with great wellbeing benefits for workers and residents.

A regime with a responsibility for rehabilitation has to be equipped to motivate and encourage engagement, and then to be able to respond, reward and build on progress when it is being made. The prison service’s renewed focus on rehabilitation culture begins to recognise that for some individual’s lasting behaviour change, requires a level of personal growth of enormous magnitude, and is not a quick fix.

The mix of psychosocial issues, addictions and entrenched behaviours that contribute to recidivism can be only be overcome with constant encouragement, practice and psychological reinforcement over time, in prison and after release. As people pass through the prison system and back into the community, any one institution can never consider itself responsible for the beginning or end of a prisoner’s rehabilitative journey. A rehabilitation culture or ‘whole prison’ approach has been described as the institutional values, work practices, skill and behaviours needed and emphasises the role that networks and relationships have to play in supporting prisoners journey to active citizenship and desistance from crime. The contention here is that the design of the building has a role to play in the implementation of that culture.

According to Matter, lighting in prisons typically consist of direct, undimmable and consistent colour artificial lighting. This can be straining when exposed to for long periods of time, creating stressful environments for all building users. Additionally, consistent, unvaried lighting of spaces reinforces the sense of institutionalisation and monotony.

The solution to this is to introduce diffused, indirect, varied colour temperature lighting, which is generally considered as good design practice across different building types. In areas requiring high lighting levels for undertaking tasks, this should be in addition to, not instead of other sources of light. See LYA’s product solutions.

Industry standards should be applied within prisons, such as the Society of Light and Lighting standards (CIBSE). Modern LED light fittings should be used for energy efficiency and low maintenance. These can provide variable colours and can readily be used to provide task lighting, ambient lighting and wall and ceiling lighting to achieve variation between spaces.


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