ADPSR's work was discussed at the California legislature on 10/10/13. We are making an impact! You can see the entire hearing at this link - http://www.calchannel.com/recent-archive/ (see Joint Informational Hearing on Segregation Policies in California Prisons). This clip is at 1:40:40.
You can also see just the clip at ADPSR's new Facebook page for our Ethics & Human Rights campaign: https://www.facebook.com/ADPSRArchitects. While you are there, "like" the page to stay updated on the campaign.
The hearing itself was a significant outcome of the hunger strike by prisoners in solitary confinement in California earlier this year. The committee leaders spoek repeatedbly about new legislation to curb solitary confinement in the state's prisons, given decades of inaction by the Corrections department. It was a rare joint session between the state Assembly and Senate public safety committees, indicating its importance.
This is what Margaret Winter of the ACLU National Prison Project said: “Many major national non-governmental organizations are now involved in the challenge to solitary confinement ... an effort is underway to amend the American Institute of Architects’ Code of Ethics to prohibit the design of facilities intended for prolonged solitary confinement."
At the recent conference of the AIA Academy of Architecture for Justice in Portland, OR, a week ago, about 20 AAJ members held an discussion on the topic of ethics, human rights, and justice design. AAJ is the unit of AIA where designers of courthouses, police stations, jails, and prisons gather for information exchange and networking. While not granting ADPSR the panel we requested to present our campaign, after some back and forth they did help us to hold an informal conversation at the conference. Both ADPSR Board Member Deanna van Buren and I attended, and it was quite an intense and focused discussion. Certainly not all AAJ members agreed with our proposal to prohibit the design of execution chambers or spaces intended for torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, including prolonged solitary confinement. In this post, I will summarize the rationale for the change I presented to the AAJ group. In the following post, which might be more interesting if you are already familiar with ADPSR’s proposal, I summarize the responses to participants in the conversation.
Special thanks to Prof. Keramet Reiter and Rev. Whitney Edwards who attended this conversation as guests of mine. They provided great moral support, knowledge, and guidance to the conversation.
So to begin, here is a summary of the initial presentation:
I started off by applauding AIA for having on our current code the following: Ethics Standard 1.4: Human Rights:
Members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.
This is something we can be proud of. However, it is not an enforceable “Rule” of the Code, and the only enforceable rule related to human rights prohibits discrimination in hiring – a worthy issue, but certainly not the total scope of how human rights relate to architectural practice. In fact, some building projects violate human rights and should be addressed here. I argued that AIA can and should do more for human rights, and that it is an opportunity for AIA to demonstrate leadership in an area of broad public concern, joining other prominent professions. The architectural profession collectively is responsible for the design of the built environment and must use our position to protect the public’s health, safety, and wellbeing from buildings that violate human rights.
I shared a handout that included the following points:
Good for Architects and for AIA:
- Recent AIA Ethics Code amendments promoting environmental sustainability and pro bono practice reaffirm architects’ responsibility to the public. Strengthening our human rights standard will continue this positive trend.
- The American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Nurses Association, and many other professional associations all already have ethics codes prohibiting participation in executions, torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. AIA should join them.
- This amendment will support designers who want to design more humane environments for people in prison by protecting them from being undercut by others who are willing to meet client demands for abusive spaces.
- This proposal is not retroactive. It does not penalize or “blame” architects who designed these facilities in the past.
- “Improvements” to these building types are not necessary or reasonable. There is no “better” way to design a room intended to kill or degrade someone.
Supports Human Rights:
- International Human Rights NGOs and the U.N. have called for the end of the death penalty repeatedly from 1968 until today.
- The U.S. has 37 U.S. Death Rows that have completed over >2,000 executions since 1976.
- In 2012, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture defined solitary confinement of juveniles, the mentality ill, or anyone else in excess of 15 days as a form of torture or other prohibited cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. We should respond to this change.
- There are 45 dedicated “supermax” prisons in the U.S. holding ~20,000 people in prolonged solitary confinement. The typical cell is 7’ x 12’. The average detention is 5 years or longer in some states but the longest detention is over 40 years. Youth and the mentally ill are routinely held in solitary confinement across the U.S.
- Prolonged solitary confinement (i.e. over 15 days) causes profound and irreversible psychological damage, because the human psyche needs social interaction and environmental stimulation to maintain its basic stability. Frequent symptoms of solitary confinement include severe hallucinations, uncontrollable rage, depression, anxiety, and decompensation. While around 4% of prisoners are kept in solitary confinement, around 50% of all prison suicides occur in solitary.
I also pointed out that ADPSR has received endorsements for our proposal from a large and growing group of human rights and design organizations. Endorsers include Amnesty International and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (which represented over 800 congregations of many faiths concerned about the use of solitary confinement; one Episcopal Reverend joined our conversation as a guest ), and DesignCorps, which runs the Public Interest Design Institute. In addition, ADPSR has organized an online petition that has received over 1,000 signatures, many from architects.
For reference, the specific proposal ADPSR is recommending is the following. I encouraged AAJ members to share thoughts on potential edits that would improve the quality of the proposal.
Proposed Rule 1.402:
Members shall not design spaces intended for execution or for torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including prolonged solitary confinement.
The Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibit “torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (ICCPR Article 7) and ICCPR also requires that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person” (Article 10). Prolonged solitary confinement has been identified as a form of torture or prohibited cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Committee Against Torture, and the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Please see Part 2 of this entry for the conversation that followed -- I get called "inflammatory" in public!
(thanks to Catherine Chan, AIA, and a member of the AAJ Advisory Group for the pictures of the conversation in process)
Following the introduction, other participants shared their thoughts. This is my summary:
- At least one AIA national director is aware of this proposal and had contacted the AAJ Advisory Group for Input. The Advisory Group may (or may not?) try to formulate a position to inform the National Board but the AG has not received input from AAJ members yet. [This discussion would be a good place to share your input. The National Board is the body with the authority to change the Code of Ethics.]
- The last two meetings of the American Correctional Association (ACA) had keynote speeches related to solitary confinement and its mental health issues. This is an issue that ACA is keenly aware of.
- Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is turning against the use of segregation, in part due to a recent expose in the New York Times. New York State and New York City (riker’s Island) are also turning away from segregation.
- The use of the term “torture” is inflammatory and unfair. “Torture” refers to having the intent to harm an individual to gain information or for other purposes -- even if people are harmed in U.S. prisons it is not with that kind of intent. [I agreed about the definition of torture, but responded that human rights treaties ban “torture or other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” and that U.S. conditions of concern fall under the latter part of the prohibition.]
- A lot of people in segregation have serious mental health issues and also have committed very serious and violent crimes. What is an appropriate way to treat those people?
- Does the Healthcare knowledge community have any position on secure mental health facilities?
- AIA’s adoption of a ban on death chambers would increase pride in AIA membership.
- It might be easier to get a ban on death chambers alone, leaving out the issue of solitary confinement.
- Some people present said they opposed the death penalty.
- The death penalty is the law; don’t architects have to build facilities the law requests?
- The precedent set by the various medical associations not to participate in executions is important and should be taken note of. But what impact does it have? [I replied that in many states executions have been halted by the inability to find doctors who will participate. Also, the drug companies that make the drugs used for lethal injections will not sell those products to U.S. states anymore, because they do not want their company associated with the act of intentionally killing people. Does AIA want architects to have that association?]
- Some of the terms should be better defined – for instance “solitary confinement” and “prolonged” solitary confinement. [I replied that the references to the various international human rights treaties in the proposed commentary is intended to direct the AIA National Ethics Council towards the large body of interpretation of those terms that has been developed by the international human rights system.]
- It would not be fair to hold architects accountable for unintended uses of spaces we design. How would we know if a space is intended for “prolonged” solitary confinement. [I replied that the proposal refers to the design intent of spaces. Typical segregation rooms in small facilities are probably not intended for prolonged isolation, but a large facility like Pelican Bay State Prison in California, with 1,000 isolation cells, will clearly hold people for over 15 days, and provides a clear case of that intent. Gray areas, if they came up, would be examined on a case-by-case basis by the National Ethics Council.]
- As an alternative, AAJ could write a white paper or position paper on Best Practices in correctional design, and get AIA to endorse it. This would highlight the positive aspects of design instead of the “members shall not” language of the ethics proposal. [I noted that most of the Rules in the Ethics Code define what members shall not do in negative terms, while the unenforceable Standards have more positive language. I suggested AAJ could endorse the Ethics proposal along with writing a paper to explain best practices to accompany it.]
- Supermax prisons and death chambers aren’t being built anymore and are too rare to merit this special attention. [I replied that the State of Arizona was currently designing a 500 bed supermax prison, and that as recently as 2010 California had rebuilt its execution chamber.]
- A law professor in attendance noted that there is a difference between “human rights” (referred to in the AIA Code) and U.S. Constitutional rights. The Constitution only forbids “cruel and unusual” punishment, which has been interpreted to mean it has to be both cruel and unusual: if something is cruel but everyone is doing it, it is not unconstitutional. Courts have overturned “cruel” practices by noting an “evolving standard of decency” away from those practices, and the position of professional associations is a significant piece of evidence that courts look at to make that determination. AIA could have a big impact not only on future design but on current practice.
Towards the end of the conversation, a Canadian attendee commended the group for having the dialogue. While he noted that Canada does not have the death penalty and does not use solitary confinement (or at least not at nearly the rate in the U.S.), he could not think of a group of Canadian architects who had sat down to investigate their ethical obligations about a weighty topic like this as seriously as our AAJ group had done.
The ADPSR board of directors is in whole-hearted agreement with the authors of this petition. It is shocking that the over sixty years that AIA has been giving its Gold Medal award, they have not found one suitable woman to award it to. That has to change, and the sooner, the better!
The past few weeks ahve seen a great deal of interest in ADPSR's proposal to reform the AIA code of ethics. While journalists strive to be objective, I think you can often see a journalists personal position on this debate pretty clearly:
Kudos to The Nation's Michael Sorkin (Drawing the Line: Architects and Prisons, A call for architects to refuse to design chambers of living death) and Rachel Swan in the SF Weekly (Punishment by Design: The Power of Architecture Over the Human Mind) for going in-depth and coming up with strong support for human rights!
A job well done by Frances Anderton of KCRW's "DnA: Design and Architecture" radio show (Should Architects Say No to Designing Cells for Solitary Confinement), who actually keeps her opinions to herself but giving Joe Day, Beverly Prior, and myself the chance to speak for ourselves. It is great to hear Beverly Prior say that ADPSR's position "I think there's a lot of merit to it." She has designed a lot of prisonsa and jails, has been a leader of AIA's Academy of Architecture for Justice and an AIA National board member. Way to go Beverly!
Mixed grades to the LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne (Prison design faces judgment). One the one hand, I appreciate his pairing ADPSR's work with Joe Day's book Corrections and Collections (also featured earlier by DnA) -- Joe Day is, incidentally, a strong supporter of ADPSR's proposal, and his supportive reflections on the turn away from the war on drugs. Then there's this:
Sperry, leading the prison-design boycott movement, has described long-term solitary confinement as torture. He has called on the American Institute of Architects to amend its code of ethics and professional conduct to ban members from designing them (or rooms where death-row inmates are executed).
But the moral questions here get tricky pretty quickly. The SHU at Pelican Bay is actually marginally better designed than solitary units at other prisons, in part because of details that the KMD architects insisted on, including a system to bring natural light through perforated doors into each cell.
In a broader sense, the kinds of architects who would sign a ban are also the ones who are most likely, if they were to design a prison, to fully consider the psychological health of inmates. Instead of parsing the details of a massively complex moral quandary, perhaps the goal should be simpler: to aim for a society that produces both better-designed prisons and fewer ones.
Hawthorne should really note that it's not just me, or ADPSR, who describe long-term solitary confinement as torture -- we are following the interpretation of Amnesty International and the Un Special Rapporteur on Torture, and asking AIA to do the same.
I also wish he had distinguished between ADPSR's earlier campaign, the Prison Design Boycott, and our proposal to AIA to ban the design of execution chambers and spaces for prolonged solitary confinement. I khope that if he thought more carefully about the latter proposal we would agree that smaller, better-designed human rights abuses are not what our prison system needs. Know what? I will write him about this piece and let you know what he responds, if he does.
I just received this very special drawing from a family member of a man in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison “Security Housing Unit.” It’s of part of the prison that I have been trying to understand for a long time: the “pod.” I’ve pored over the few published photographs that exist, and watching and re-watched the limited amount of documentary footage of these places. I’ve even made models and drawings on this space myself, trying to figure out what its configuration does to the lives of people who are locked in it.
Most drawings of the supermax SHU (pronounced like “shoe”) are of the cells, appropriately I suppose, since that is where the men are locked in for 22 ½ hours or more per day. From what I can tell, the SHU cells are actually a lot like many other high- or maximum-security prisons: poured concrete walls, floors, and ceiling; about 7 ½ x 12 feet in size; poured concrete bunks, “desk,” and “stool;” and a stainless steel combination toilet and sink unit. (You can see a picture of a Pelican Bay SHU cell, and sign ADPSR’s petition to end the design of spaces for solitary confinement, here.)
But it’s actually the “pod,” or enlarged hallway, that sets the SHU apart from other prisons. Prisoners leave their cells once each day for “outdoor yard” time and, sometimes, a shower. But they don’t leave the pod ever – at all – except for extraordinary events that occur rarely to never: visitors, parole reviews, disciplinary hearings, etc.. Everything else is brought into the pod: nurses and psychologists speak through the perforated metal mesh of the cell doors (drawn as cross-hatched in this drawing). Food and mail are pushed through the slot in the door. (The solid-looking doors between the mesh cell doors are access panels for the plumbing chases, placed so that repair work can be done without having to go into the cell. If workers are present, all the cells are locked down until work is complete – just one circumstance out of many that causes people to lose their one and a half hours of out-of-cell time.) Some prisoners say that years of conducting conversations through the perforated metal doors has left them with permanent eyestrain and headaches.
In more typical maximum security prisons the “pod” is a larger “dayroom” and is a social space. Prisoners are locked in their cells at night, and spend the day in a larger common area with (often rudimentary) furniture, meals, and some choice of activities with others. In the SHU, pod is never occupied by more than one prisoner. In the daily routine, remote-controlled motors (housed in the heavy linear metal enclosure that you can see over the doors) allow movement from a cell through the pod and into the “yard” through the door at the back, or into the shower, so that there is no interaction. If a prisoner is slated to leave the pod, a team of two to five guards will enter the pod, although the prisoner is generally shackled through the food slot of the cell door before it is opened.
Of course, it could be worse. Other supermax prisons use solid doors, and make up for the lack of daylight with small windows to the outdoors. (Pelican Bay cells get some borrowed light from the skylight over the pod through the door front, which the designers considered sufficient enough to leave out the windows, at a substantial cost savings. Some prisoners say the daylight is too dim to read by.) By some accounts, prisoners can speak to the other seven men in their pod through the perforated metal doors – although after years of confinement with the same small group conversation can run out. But “it could be worse” is, fortunately, not the standard uses for measuring whether conditions are cruel, inhuman, degrading, or torturous enough to be a human rights violation. As Amnesty International put it: The cumulative effects of such conditions, particularly when imposed for prolonged or indefinite periods, and the severe environmental deprivation in Pelican Bay SHU, in particular, amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in violation of international law.
This has been a big day (and week) for ADPSR in the media. The massive hunger strike in California prisons that began 12 days ago has finally brought mainstream media attention to the human rights abuses of solitary confinement in California prisons. The aspect of how and why the buildings that house that abuse were designed, and if we should refuse to build more, is an angle on the story that many journalists and commentators are finding compelling. Here are some of our recent mentions:
The Guardian (UK) (see the end of the article): California prison guards retaliating against hunger-strikers, lawyers say 7/18/2013
The Huffington Post (an original piece all about our campaign): Prison Design and Its Consequences: The Architect's Dilemma 7/18/2013
Daily GOOD: Why a Prison Like Pelican Bay Should Never Be Designed Again 7/18/2013
Blog post for ACLU: “There Are Some Buildings that Never Should Have Been Built,” 7/12/13; reposted by Commondreams.org 7/13/13.
Our petition urging AIA to ban the design of spaces intended for prolonged soiltary confinement (along with execution chambers) is now at 850 signers, with about 100 of those having signed in just the past week.
Of course our goal with the campaign is two-fold: to get AIA to make the improvement to its Ethics Code, and to educate architects and the broader public about the human rights problems with the death penalty and solitary confinement. This week we are making good progress on both counts!
I’m excited and honored to have two amazing podcasts working together to present a thoughtful investigation into the human rights questions ADPSR is raising with our AIA Ethics campaign. Their story, “An Architect’s Code,” is built around the question of whether it is OK to design spaces intended for solitary confinement.
I’ll admit I’ve been a fan of 99% Invisible in particular nearly since it launched. I stumbled across it listening to public radio station KALW in San Francisco – which helped get the show off the ground – and quickly subscribed. Their form of storytelling centered around questions of interest to architects and designers brings philosophical depth where other architecture periodicals – which I also enjoy – tend to present technical information or insider perspectives.
The show is only 18 minutes long, it’s beautifully produced, and both hosts have unique voices made for radio. It seems that after looking into ADPSR’s proposal, they think we deserve the profession’s support, but listen to it and judge for yourself.
On March 30, ADPSR helped host and facilitate "Envisioning a Healthy FREE LA: Community Solutions Not Jail Expansion," a free community workshop in Los Angeles. The event was an opportunity for members of the communities most impacted by L.A.'s troubled (to say the least) justice system to share their point of view. In particular, it was intended to give voice to alternatives to the current proposal for over $1 Billion of new jail construction proposed by the L.A. County Sheriff. The workshop was facilitated by ADPSR, led by Raphael Sperry (current ADPSR President), and LA-based architects Rebecca Seward, Joe Day and Claude Eshaghian.
The event began with a teach-in where a variety of speakers from community-based organizations explained the jail construction plan and the broader context of criminal justice "Realignment," a recent California state policy that has put more people charged with low-level offenses at the county level, in order to reduce the state prison population to a constitutionally acceptable level (which has not entierly worked). Counties were given flexibility to address how to respond to keeping the people locally: either with probation, enhanced services (like drug treatment), electronic monitoring, or jail. Jail expansion of course is the harshest and most expensive alternative. Participants followed the teach-in with a brainstorming session on what they think could more effectively reduce crime and meet community needs if the county was going to spend $1 Billion on construction:
At "MCJ" -- the current site of Men's Central Jail, where a $900 Million rebuild is proposed -- people thought that job training, higher education could be useful. This site is adjacent to downtown LA, walking distance to Union Station, Chinatown, and other central neighborhoods. Yet these densely populated neighborhoods -- the densest in Southern California -- lack a community center or enough open space to meet community needs. One comment, perhaps ironic, noted that the existing boxy building has enough space to function as a movie multiplex (if interior walls are removed). It's not far from Hollywood, at least in miles.
At the site of the Sheriff's proposed "Women's Village" -- which will hold more than 1,100 women in detention -- participants were in mind for transitional housing and related to the remote, open space of the site with ideas for green jobs development in the organic farming and/or solar sectors. In fact, while the site is remote from most of L.A. County, it is surrounded by four other jails already, consuming the last piece of flat land among them.
This was an afternoon of inspiration and innovation. Everyone present came to the conclusion that we can do better than building more cages for people. The models produced will be part of an ongoing conversation within the community and with the LA Board of Supervisors, Sheriff's department, and the broader public. The visual impact and emotional charge they carry should help advance a point of view that needs to be heard.
ADPSR's Alternatives to Incarceration campaign has long advocated for the building of more community infrastructure -- as well as more deucational, cultural, and economic opoprtunity in general -- as a way to prevent violence in America's poorest neighborhoods. At least one New York City Council member agrees with us. Speaking is response to a protest over police violence that later turned violent itself, Jumaane Williams said, "Tonight was a peaceful vigil that devolved into a riot. The youth in this community have no outlets for their anger, no community center." Obviousble providing a community center with better recreational opportunities won't solve all the problems kids in East Flatbush, Queens, face, but it would be a start. It might both symbolize and realize a turn away from the harsh neglect the nieghborhood -- and thousands like it all over the country -- have suffered for decades.