Safe & Humane
By Stephen A. Carter (11/24/2010)

Many of my recent articles have chronicled a worldwide decline in prison population. Today, however, I want to present why this current trend is not a universal characteristic.

On the wall in one of our conference rooms is a map of the world prepared by The Interdisciplinary Research Programme on Causes of Human Rights Violations, located at Leiden University in the Netherlands. I often stare at that map during internal meetings because the conflict areas in the globe are noted in red.

This particular map (published in 2002 and by now somewhat dated) identifies 23 High Intensity Conflict Areas, 79 Low Intensity Conflict Areas, and 175 Violent Political Conflict sites in the world. This represents more than 275 conflict sites around the globe. As is all too apparent from constant news reports, many of these conflicts result in devastating consequences for local communities.

In many parts of the world, during and following a cessation of conflict, a major challenge for stabilization that faces the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations is the safe and humane incarceration of criminals. As the military responsibility shifts to a policing function, the need for secure places to detain local residents charged with or convicted of criminal offenses becomes critical. The same need for incarceration exists following a natural disaster, as recently occurred in Haiti, if local detention facilities are rendered inoperable.

Following the stabilization of conflict, the DPKO must move quickly to oversee the implementation of services and facilities that aid in establishing public safety. Typically, the time and cost to design and construct prisons in established communities is extensive. As we all know, locating sites with adequate utility infrastructure, selecting designers, obtaining required approvals, tendering the documents and constructing a prison can require years to accomplish.

Prisons are essential to assuring public safety and in post-conflict situations. The delivery of these services must be accomplished quickly and in compliance with established minimum standards. Without prisons, even the most basic aim of establishing the rule of law is impossible to achieve. Recognizing the need for rapidly deployed prisons, the DPKO requested assistance from the International Corrections and Prisons Association at their annual conference last October in Barbados.

Following a presentation of the need for assistance by Dmitry Titov, assistant secretary-general for rule of law and security institutions, and Richard Kuurie, DPKO corrections policy officer, the ICPA Board unanimously adopted a resolution of support to develop a manual outlining the components, design, and indicative cost for an instant prison. The aim of the initiative was to design a prison that can be erected within 60-120 days and meet UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Drawing from a diverse ICPA membership that includes ministers of justice, director-generals, prison directors, medical professionals, training specialists, architects, builders, and system engineers, a design team was established to work without compensation to prepare a manual for construction of an instant prison.

Meeting in Chicago, Tampa, New York, and cyberspace, the ICPA Team immediately recognized that for the effort to be applicable to a range of needs, design schemes for individual prison components (housing, medical, food service, and staff accommodation), rather than plans for a standalone prison, would be more universally adaptable. Designs were developed for 18 separate components that could be combined to form a prison, or could be additions to existing structures.

Livability, speed of installation, cost, and the ability of local staff to build the prison components with minimal involvement of external contractors, are essential to the mission. The ICPA Team researched a variety of pre-manufactured options and arrived at the ubiquitous shipping container as the building model that fits the mission and criteria.

In the 1950s the methods for shipping goods over water was revolutionized by the development of a structural unit called an ISO Shipping Container. The concept was a structurally sound “box” that could be accommodated on cargo ships, trains, airplanes, and trucks for shipping a broad range of materials and products throughout the world.

The popularity of the container altered the methods of goods movement so much that a problem of an excess of empty containers began to complicate the management of many of the world’s major ports. In the United States alone the estimate of empty containers was nearly one million in 2005.

As a result of a global excess of unused containers consuming valuable real estate, designers began to explore alternate uses of the pre-engineered shipping module and changed the name to Intermodal Steel Building Unit. Today, ISBUs are used for student housing, private residences, office configurations, libraries, medical clinics, detention facilities, and many other applications.

With the existence of ISBUs throughout the world, the basic building form is available and can easily be converted to safe, permanent accommodation for all of a prison’s components. With minimal effort, these shipping containers can be transformed to housing for prisoners and staff, as well as infirmaries, kitchens, and office space. The team began the process of developing alternative configurations for housing, then moving on to each of the other major components, including a “village” for staff and family housing.

Livability of the transformed containers has always been a primary concern for the UN. Using the expertise of environmental engineers, the ICPA Team devised inexpensive methods for shading, wind, and temperature control and the assurance of appropriate comfort indices. Referring to the “conflict map” mentioned earlier, most of the high intensity conflict areas are in sub-Saharan Africa where daytime temperatures easily exceed 110 degrees and the night temperatures 50 degrees less.

As the evidence base developed, the team and DPKO became more confident that the ISBU model is appropriate and can be universally adapted. The approach opens opportunities for off-site retrofits of the modules as a prison industry for a “donor” nations or a construction skill that is teachable to a “recipient” nation. The entire compliment of materials, equipment, and tools necessary to erect a 500-bed rapid deployment prison could be shipped in less than 400 containers.

The concept was presented to more than 450 delegates at the ICPA annual conference in Ghent, Belgium, the week of October 24. Following a period of incorporating the suggestions of various operational and financial experts, as well as justice ministers and director generals from potential recipient and donor nations, the ICPA Design Team will complete the design manual before the end of 2010.

This effort has demonstrated not only the incredible talent that exists within the correctional design and construction community, but the commitment of many individuals to improving the conditions of confinement and the promotion of the rule of law through the selfless donation of considerable time and resources to this global effort. Allow me to personally thank the following individuals, as well as many other support persons, for their continued commitment to this mission of the DPKO and ICPA:

• Ron Budzinski – PSA-Dewberry

• Sean Butler – Hale Mills Construction

• Paul Chastant – Carter Goble Lee

• Eric Cohen – Hale Mills Construction

• Andy Cupples – AECOM

• Chris Frye – PSA-Dewberry

• Richard Hansen – AECOM

• Cassandra Johnson – Carter Goble Lee

• Anders Kaufmann – Carter Goble Lee

• David Payne – Hale Mills Construction

• Kendall Phinney – Hale Mills Construction

• George Runkle – Runkle Consulting

Stephen A. Carter, AICP, is principal of Carter Goble Lee LLC in Columbia, S.C., and a member of the Correctional News Editorial Advisory Board.

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