Must prisons be so confining?

Stuck in the waiting area of a local Level 4 prison yesterday, awaiting the arrival of a client, my investigator and I got talking about prison cells. So we decided to map out the size of a standard prison cell in the waiting area where we were.

We used 80 square feet as an average size – and boy is that a small, small area. The waiting room was roughly three and a half times that size and I don’t think I could keep my sanity after spending one day locked in that room. I can’t imagine what it would be like to spend just one day in your average prison cell.

And it isn’t 80 square feet of open real estate, either. There’s a bed (or two), a sink and toilet and perhaps a shelf or two. Add to that boxes, files, books, a tv, a mirror and other things and you have almost no space but the bed itself.

So, I ask, why? Why must prisons be so confining? It seems to me that making cells that small and restrictive is adding a second layer of punishment. There’s the overall punishment of incarceration in a state-controlled facility: you can’t leave for a specified period of time, you eat and sleep and drink and take a shower when someone else tells you to, you have very limited contact with the real world, you have no access to fresh air or the outdoors – you have no freedom. Why compound that with an incredibly small room that further confines your ability to move around in the already limited environment?

Is it a wonder that people in prison are aggressive and angry – and sadly – many of them have mental health issues?

For those of you who say they deserve to be there, to be further punished, I ask if the taking away of liberty is not punishment enough? How long do you think you could stay sane if you were under house arrest? Imagine living in your house – however big it is – but without the ability to leave. You’re still in your house, but you can’t cook your own meals, you can’t access the internet, you can’t mow the lawn, you can’t go to the mailbox to get your mail, you can’t open a window.

At some point (pretty quickly, I imagine), it won’t matter that your house is 3000 sq. feet, as opposed to 80.  The punishment is in the restriction on liberty, not in the confinement like a caged animal (or should be). So, even if you lived in Buckingham Palace, at some point you’d feel confined.

Could you? Could you live in your house with the conditions I impose above for ten days? Two months? Five months? Two years? Two years. Think about everything you’ve done over the last two years before you answer that.

So what’s the harm in making prison cells a little…bigger? Isn’t it enough that we have confined these individuals for long periods of time? Must we also treat them like unwanted pets at a kill shelter? Maybe it’ll improve their mood a little bit, and with that, a chance at rehabilitation. But if you treat people like animals, they become animals. Show them some compassion and something good may come of it.

Take a look at this picture. What do you think it is?

It’s the Leoben Prison in Australia. As has been noted by others on the web, it looks like an Ikea Store. But it’s still a prison. Do you think the prisoners there are happy to be incarcerated? I bet they still feel pretty restricted. Here’s a picture of a jail cell:

But perhaps they don’t feel like society doesn’t give a damn about them and perhaps they feel treated like human beings.

Further related reading: A list of the most interesting, overcrowded, smallest and biggest prisons in the world

7 thoughts on “Must prisons be so confining?

  1. Edintally

    I have no doubt, given your restrictions, something inside my head would snap. Moreover, the longer I lived under those conditions, the longer it would take to recover, if at all. In fact, taking away the internet would be enough to freak me out since it’s a major part of my “community” and helps alleviate the lack of space my 800sq foot home provides.

    Of course, the bigger question is why do we, as a society, treat people that way?

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  4. Confused

    You make a great point.. but your post doesn’t make sense. You are saying that if someone were to live in their big house 24/7 for months or even years that they would become emotionally/mentally unstable. By making that statement you prove that jail cell size does not matter, since according to you the size of a house does not matter, it’s being confined there all day that makes it unhealthy.

    Despite the confussion though, I agree that prison cells are far too small. Having to suffer through a cramped area should not be part of the punishment. Being locked up and told what to do and when is bad enough. Being bullied by other inmates is enough. No privacy is enough.
    Some inmates deserve to suffer! But it’s inhumane to cause unncessary distress upon them. Honestly, I think they’d suffer more having a clear mind being able to think rationally and sanelly about what landed them in prison instead of feeling suffocated by such a tiny living area.
    I’m not sure why prison cells are so small.. I kinda assume it’s so they can fit more inmates into the facility.

  5. A Voice of Sanity

    I’m not sure why prison cells are so small.. I kinda assume it’s so they can fit more inmates into the facility.

    I suspect that malice forms a good part of it. Americans do seem to hate the “evil-doers”.


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