Page C2.1 . 01 September 2004                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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Prison Imperfection

by J. T. Clark

Prison design has long been controversial. During the 19th century, when wide-scale prison construction began in the western United States, prisons were criticized for providing a better quality of life to their wards than was available to some law-abiding citizens. Conversely, in recent times human rights groups have sought to improve prison conditions worldwide by criticizing the quality of the facilities themselves.

The debate over prison design has shifted from security to rehabilitation and now, with the advent of the "war on terrorism," back to security. After decades of architectural reform aimed at improving prison manageability, promoting better relations between guards and prisoners, and providing facilities for correctional programs, a "new" breed of U.S. prison has emerged: the prisoner-of-war (POW) camp.

Consisting of little more than 6- by 8-foot (1.8- by 2.4-meter) wire cages, Guantanamo Bay's Camp X-Ray was reviled by human right activists but defended by the U.S. Department of Defense as a temporary solution for a serious security problem.

The 612 units of Camp Delta, Camp X-Ray's successor, would hardly pass muster by American corrections standards. Each unit is reportedly "a metal box a little larger than a king-size mattress," according to Vanity Fair reporter and Guantanamo visitor David Rose.

This precedent may help explain why President George W. Bush's announcement in May 2004, that Abu Ghraib prison would be razed as "a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning" and replaced by a "modern, maximum-security prison" was greeted with little enthusiasm.   >>>

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The 19th-century Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.
Photo: Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site

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Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay.


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