Research into the impact of penal architecture on prisoners and prison staff has changed thinking on custodial design and led to investment in more progressive and innovative prisons in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.


  • Professor Yvonne Jewkes’ research has resulted in nine new prisons in England and Wales, the Republic of Ireland, Australia and New Zealand being designed with rehabilitative goals being given at least equal priority to punishment and security objectives.
  • Her findings that ‘normalised’ and more humane living spaces encourage rehabilitation and potentially less recidivism underpin 12 prison refurbishment projects in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
  • She has worked closely with the Irish Prison Service (IPS) on a wide-ranging modernisation programme, including the design of the new €71m Limerick women’s prison, due to open in 2020. She guided IPS through every stage of the planning/design process in creating an innovative 50-bed facility, with student accommodation style rooms, better quality furniture, landscaped open spaces, and more child- friendly visitor areas.
  • Her work has changed thinking in prison and correction services, ministries of justice and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, prompting the UK Ministry of Justice’s 2019 decision to use toughened glass rather than traditional bars in future prisons in England and Wales: a change that brings improved security within a less punitive environment. Her findings led to the removal of window bars from existing prisons including HMP Hydebank Wood in Northern Ireland and Wheatfield Prison in Dublin.
  • Qualitative research carried out across seven years identifies improvements in design that when implemented enhance the behaviour, mental health, and wellbeing of both prisoners and staff.

"It is fair to say that Yvonne’s research and contributions resulted not only in a complete re-think of the concepts for the new women’s prison in Limerick but also brought about a much more innovative and positive approach to prison design and prison purposing.” (Ciarán M. Nevin, Irish Prison Service)

About the research

The 117 prisons in England and Wales house some 80,000 prisoners, including 3,250 women. Research by Professor Yvonne Jewkes shows that over a quarter of prisoners (22,000) are currently housed in grim Victorian-era accommodation, and in small, often overcrowded, cells that limit the potential of rehabilitating offenders. Since 2014 Professor Jewkes has worked with prison authorities in the UK and further afield to encourage new thinking about prison spaces and the belief that progressive prison design could lead to a less hostile, more rehabilitative environment that offers a safer and better work environment for prison staff and greater normality for visitors, particularly children. This not only improves the experiences of prison staff, visitors and prisoners but can affect rehabilitation and the likelihood of reoffending.

As part of her research, Professor Jewkes examined all aspects of prison commissioning, procurement, planning and design as well as the impacts of architecture and design on prisoners and prison staff. She also explored two prisons recognised as exemplars of progressive prison design: Halden Prison in Norway and Storstrøm Prison in Denmark, as well as highly progressive but ultimately uncommissioned designs, including for Holmsheidi Prison in Iceland and Haren Prison in Belgium. She has successfully incorporated best practice lessons from this research into normalising prison environments through, for example, larger windows, more green spaces, fixtures and fittings that are domestic rather than institutional in feel, and bright, welcoming rooms for family visits, with the aim of making time in custody more humane.

“The built environment shapes how we think and feel,” she explains. “Architecture and design play an important part in rehabilitation which, over the longer term, will make our society safer through reduced recidivism.” None of her work, she stresses, is about making prisons ‘softer’ or less of a deterrent to criminals. “Normalising prisons and making them less ‘institutional’ is essential if they are to be more than human warehouses that return offenders to society with their lives even more fractured, and their life chances even more reduced, than when they were admitted,” she explains.

Professor Jewkes’ penal philosophy of humanity, hope and rehabilitation has strongly influenced the Irish Prison Service (IPS). In planning the new 50-bed women’s prison in Limerick, she persuaded the IPS senior team to view female offenders as individuals with complex emotional and well as clinical needs, but also considerable potentials and futures. Using Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres as an exemplar, Professor Jewkes encouraged the IPS to think not about an architecture of incarceration but, instead, an ‘architecture of hope’.

Crucially, the hope built into the bright, more homely Limerick women’s prison will benefit offenders, prison staff and visitors alike, Professor Jewkes insists. “It’s important to remember that prisons are working environments too,” she says. “When architects consider the needs of prison staff in their designs, the result is a happier, healthier and better functioning prison as a whole.”