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How HMP Glasgow is paving the way in rehabilitative design

23 Oct 2023

Helena Pombares

Helena Pombares

Prison Architectural Specialist

At the ICPA Annual Conference 2023 in Antwerp this week, attention will be cantered on methods and strategies that facilitate the smooth transition of prisoners from incarceration to society. HMP Glasgow incorporates a unique set of design principles that emphasise rehabilitation and reintegration within the prison setting. Prison Architecture Specialist, Helena Queiroz Pombares and Director of Operations, Tim Irons will be presenting alongside Michael Stoney, Barlinnie & HMP Glasgow Prison Governor, shedding light on the principles of salutogenic design and its alignment with the Nelson Mandela Rules. Here, Helena discusses some key takeaways from their presentation.

Confined design

It is often forgotten that the prison environment is not shaped only to restrict the freedoms enjoyed by those on the outside but must also pave the way for rehabilitation and an incarcerated individual’s eventual proactive return to society. It is a delicate balance, that must explore ways of implementing ‘normality’, with understanding that the space is also shaped for confinement and segmentation.

Today, modern prison estates, led by organisations such as the Scottish Prison Service and Ministry of Justice, are acutely aware of this task, and need consultants like us to consider these notions within our design processes.

HMP Glasgow is just one of a number of projects on the periphery that signal change at the heart of the UK prison programme. Last year, the UK Government unveiled plans to create 4,000 more prison spaces as part of £4bn package to help transform the UK’s prison estate. Part of the work detailed was refurbishing 16 existing prisons, with a focus on supporting facilities including healthcare, kitchens and staff offices, as well as workshops and classrooms designed to stimulate prisoners into employment upon release.

A programme of change

This modernisation is acutely in line with work we are providing for the prison service, having successfully delivered HMP Oakwood, Five Wells and Fosse Way among others to date.

For HMP Glasgow, we are working closely with a strategic alliance team, and have been appointed as architects in charge of designing the residential blocks and landscaping. Part of the construction of the prison will include a reduction from 30 to 20 cells per wing, which will see three large houseblocks replaced by five smaller ones, with the intention to create a ‘household’ model rather than a 'super wing' approach.

The move is based on research findings, designed to foster stronger relationships between prisoners and staff, will also help day-to-day operations in managing prisoner movements. More importantly, the increase in space will help improve the mental health of Prisoners and staff, as well as affording the opportunity to implement a number of new features under consideration within the site masterplan.

This includes privacy screenings in the toilets within cells, which are removable and have an anti-ligature system for security purposes and will be heavily reliant on the element of trust and close management of staff. More broadly speaking, in academic terms, the general design of the prison adheres to a salutogenic approach, which was a key part of our successful appointment to the project. Cells will include principles of biophilic design to improve prisoner wellbeing, with windows giving outward views of communal green spaces and sports areas.

The Application of Nelson Mandela Rules

The Nelson Mandela Rules, formally known as the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. These rules represent a global standard for the humane treatment of prisoners, emphasising respect for prisoners' rights, dignity, and value as human beings. The alignment of salutogenic design with these principles showcases the progressive mindset in the realm of prison design and rehabilitation. The rules include a minimum dimension for rooms, windows, and the necessity to provide privacy in bathrooms and provide exposure to natural light and ventilation, with the intention to promote health and well-being.

Community engagement

One of the most innovative features being discussed is the practice of horticulture, with prisoners able to grow and sell their own vegetables to the local community, giving back to the surrounding area through rehabilitative practices. This is not something to date seen anywhere in the English prison estate and aims to challenge the stigma around prisons as undesirable, closed off locations that should not be engaged with except by staff, inmates and visitors.

Taking into consideration prisoner rehabilitation, it is an attempt to encourage positive traits and hobbies within prisoners, and ‘normalise’ everyday practices while still within the confines of prison grounds. The move will also strengthen the prison’s links with its community and the families of prisoners.

Furthermore, prisons also need to be appealing and trauma free spaces for visiting families, which is why HMP Glasgow is incorporating children’s play areas, large greenery spaces and bright, light features. These elements not only make the visiting area more pleasant but also benefit the broader community. Notably, the entrance building houses a multifunctional space designed as a valuable community asset.

The beginning of a transformative journey

HMP Glasgow is set to be truly innovative in its approach to 21st century prison operations, with plans to be the first carbon net zero prison in the country, as well incorporating elements of smart technology to navigate and manage prisoner and staff wellbeing. We look forward to bringing this unique vision to life.