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Above - in this video, Architecture Director Steven Tilkin describes Bryden Wood's approach to designing a new type of prison [image MoJ].
The cycle of reoffending is a huge cost to the UK economy. A 2016 study of a group of offenders who went on to reoffend within 12 months of their release from prison estimated that the total economic and social cost of reoffending was £18.1 billion.
The Prison Estate Transformation Program (PETP) was a program of 10,000, new for old, adult prison places across six sites (plus one new house block) at an estimated value of £1.3 billion. The full PETP program was retired and superseded by a new program, but at the time it provided an opportunity to develop a new type of prison environment using a platform based, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) approach — one whose core purpose was to increase the likelihood of rehabilitation and reduce reoffending rates. This was used in the design of the two prisons being delivered under PETP (HMP Five Wells at Wellingborough and at Glen Parva) and formed the basis for the current capacity program. It would do this by:
The Program was also a way to build on the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) recognized role as innovative leaders in public sector design and construction. The MoJ was, for example, the pathfinder department for government adoption of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and lean construction.
A key aspect of PETP was to develop standardized solutions at a range of scales that could be deployed across multiple buildings and sites, from components and rooms to entire building types, and continues through the new capacity program(s). There were many reasons for this approach:
Bryden Wood had been working with the MoJ since 2011, when we helped develop their BIM Implementation Plan. We went on to join the MoJ’s multidisciplinary designer framework in 2014 and, before PETP, developed a proof of concept for the application of DfMA to the custodial estate.
In February 2016, at the beginning of PETP, we conducted research into the aspects of design that can help influence rehabilitative outcomes. The huge stakeholder engagement effort that informed the new prison design was the biggest piece of research ever undertaken by the department into the effectiveness of prison design and building use. This is a very good example of how evidence underpins our approach to design.
Stakeholders and sources of evidence included:
Clearly, no prison design concept will inherently rehabilitate people. Buildings don’t heal people; people heal people. However, design choices can support positive social interactions and preclude or reduce negative interactions.
The design aspects that support this include:
The PETP team viewed emerging potential design solutions through two key lenses: effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness is the ability of a design to deliver the required rehabilitative outcome, while efficiency is the total whole life cost required to achieve this outcome.
This collaborative assessment process included data visualizations and the transparent, objective evaluation of different potential solutions. The team was able to balance the different and often competing interests of stakeholders using a range of techniques, including the use of Virtual Reality (VR) to simulate how the new building would work and to help them understand and contribute to the design.
Gathering feedback from groups including prison staff and those delivering services in prisons gained buy-in and approval from all levels — from senior policymakers to operational staff — and meant we were able to demonstrate best overall value for money.
All of this evidence gathering, consultation and collaboration had a profound effect on the design:
Of the standard building types, the most common is the house block, which represents nearly 60% of the accommodation on each site. Many of the innovations that came from this process are to be found in the house block:
The first prison to adopt these design principles is the 1,680 place prison, HMP Five Wells, on the site of the former HMP Wellingborough, which opened in 2022.
The house block design is the new standard that is being adopted across the planned prison estate expansion and will be used across several sites, both for new prisons and for adding capacity to existing sites.
Through initiatives like the Construction Innovation Hub, the UK government is investing significant time and effort into establishing standardized components specifications and even asset types. PETP program was instrumental in demonstrating the value of this thinking. It was also the program which first proposed the use of construction platforms. This idea has now been adopted by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) and is a central focus of the Construction Innovation Hub.
We are both proud and pleased to be part of the gathering momentum around these approaches. The potential of design to transform lives within the prison system and far beyond, is inspiring.
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