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15 Oct

A postcard by a Czech designer sparks a conversation with Raphael Sperry.

The result is an interview I’ve entitled "The Unmaking of Prisons: What would happen if architects 'just said no' to incarceration facilities?

The competition had three winners and this was one of them.

Jan Šabach is a graphic and product designer who was working in New York City at the time and responded to the open call for entries in this competition.

Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) is a grassroots organization with about 300 members, a bad acronym – unless you speak Czech, in which case the pronunciation makes perfect sense – and a sneaky method of advocating change in the U. Sperry is a past president of ADPSR’s National Board of Directors and the present chair of the Prison Design Boycott Committee.

He contributed to the text on the back of the postcard, which argues that the current American prison system is not only morally questionable but also a financial drain that ultimately reduces budgets for societal needs such as schools and health care.

PG: Can you say more about what you’re calling the inequitable and racist aspects of the U. The US now has over one percent of its adult population behind bars, which is eight to ten times the per capita rate of incarceration of any other industrialized country and is the highest rate of any country in the world, even including countries that hold political prisoners.I was dimly aware that there were big problems in the US prison system, and, being an architect, I felt prisons are about buildings in a way that few other social institutions and problems are.Some friends invited me to join the board of ADPSR and I did more research on the prison system, and was shocked to discover just how inequitable, racist and violent it actually is.So that’s a basic injustice because people in the US go to prison and serve long sentences for behavior that by international norms is not problematic.This is a result of American political trends including the so-called War on Drugs and “tough on crime” policies.His use of this kind of standard language of graphic design was one of the things that resonated with the selection panel.Also the kind of high-contrast, high impact design, people felt was a powerful aspect of his entry.RS: I guess there’s a couple of ways to approach that.From what I’ve learned of criminology, prison is not a particularly effective deterrent to crime, and harsher sentences are not a stronger deterrent.I knew right away that I wanted to be part of ADPSR's campaign." Jan Šabach PG: Could you explain the image on this postcard and say something about how it got there?RS: ADPSR held a design competition for a poster that would explain to our audience of architectural designers and planners why not to work on future prisons and jails.