rethinking prison architecture in a post-apartheid south africa

A prison, in terms of its architecture, operations and culture, is a reflection of society’s shortcomings and histories. South Africa has an unfortunate history of using incarceration and the prison system to lawfully incarcerate, torture and execute political activists and people of colour for centuries. It was South Africa’s first democratic president, political activist and Noble Peace Prize laureate, Nelson Mandela that said “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” This dissertation critically analyses the architecture of prisons in the historical and social contexts of South Africa during apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The intention is that by considering the memory, practice and actuality of prison architecture, the process of transformation can be better envisioned and ensured. The reality of prison conditions depicts an unceasing circle of overcrowding, gangsterism, violence, poor rehabilitation procedures and high recidivism among prisoners -ultimately contributing to overcrowding again. Research into recidivism in South Africa presents an array of institutional, social and psychological contributing factors and is an issue that negatively impacts prison staff, state policy implication, the taxpayer, communities and most urgently, the rehabilitation of prisoners.

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shareefah smith