As people of conscience and as a profession dedicated to improving the built environment for all people, we cannot participate in the design of spaces that violate human life and dignity. Participating in the development of buildings designed for killing, torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading is fundamentally incompatible with professional practice that respects standards of decency and human rights.
The United Nations and other international human-rights organizations consider the death penalty a violation of human rights. Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights look to the eventual abolition of capital punishment.
Since 2012 ADPSR has urged the American Institute of Architects to prohibit member participation in designing spaces for execution or for torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.1 In August 2014, ADPSR advocated that AIA expand the Human Rights standard of the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct to prohibit the design of execution chambers and prisons intended for solitary confinement. ADPSR set forth proposed rule 1.402 stating “Members shall not design spaces intended for execution or for torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including prolonged solitary confinement.” See the Activism page for further information.
An additional dimension of the injustice of solitary confinement and the death penalty cannot be overlooked: the role of race in who receives these harshest punishments. At all levels of the criminal justice system, racial minorities and people of color are disproportionately impacted and treated more harshly. African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are more likely to be stopped by police, charged more heavily by prosecutors, and sentenced to longer prison terms for exactly the same behavior as white people. They are also disproportionately held in solitary confinement.
The use of the death penalty is even more racially biased. More than half of all death-row prisoners are people of color, and 42% of death row prisoners are African American. The U.S. General Accounting Office’s study of executions found “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty.” Despite the roughly equal frequency of very serious crimes committed by people of all races, the death penalty is most frequently imposed when the offender is black and the victim is white. It is widely held that a person’s race or ethnicity should not be a factor in their treatment by government, yet decades of compiling evidence have failed to change the clear patterns of racial bias in the use of solitary confinement and execution. Just as the persistence of the disproportionate use of these harshest punishment shows the ongoing presence of racism in America, ending these punishments would be a solid step in reversing that legacy. Clearly, the architectural profession also has a long way to go to become a profession that looks like the multiracial country we live in. ADPSR urges our predominantly white and privileged profession to help redress the racial bias in the use of solitary confinement and executions by recognizing the human dignity and human rights of all people without regard to race and by ending the use of these punishments for everyone.