Thinking Inside the Box

Co-designing an Intensive Learning Centre for a NSW Maximum Security Prison
The Intensive Learning Centre at Mid North Coast Correctional Centre, Kempsey. Picture by Tasman Munro

The Intensive Learning Centre at Mid North Coast Correctional Centre, Kempsey. Picture by Tasman Munro

Smartboards, laptops, sunlit classrooms and landscaped outdoor learning spaces – if not for the pink cell blocks in the background you'd forget you were in a maximum-security prison. Thinking Inside the Box offers a glimpse into the new Intensive Learning Centre at Mid North Coast Correctional Centre at Kempsey, launched last month.

7 May – 27 June 2014

DAB LAB Research Gallery

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The Intensive Learning Centre (ILC) is the result of a unique collaboration between Corrective Services NSW and the Designing Out Crime research centre at the University of Technology, Sydney. With evidence supporting the introduction of intensive, skills-based education as an effective way of reducing re-offending, the facility seeks to provide "a transformative, 21st century learning experience" to inmates in maximum-security prisons.

"Engaging inmates in learning is important, because there's a strong link between criminal behaviour and a lack of education and employment opportunities," said Greg Smith SC, then NSW Minister for Justice, in his launch address. "About 70 per cent of assessed inmates have reading skills below year 10 level; 90 per cent have writing and numeracy skills below year 10 level. With this ILC we are using clever, flexible spaces combined with interactive teaching technology to ensure inmates gain skills that make them employable upon release and also make them better prepared to complete prison programs that treat the causes of their offending."

Site visits and prisoner interviews, among other research methods, provided context for the design exploration. "The project followed a unique process of co-design and consultation with inmates, teachers, correctional centre management staff, and senior managers in Corrective Services NSW," said industrial designer Tasman Munro, who, along with architect Kevin Bradley, environmental psychologist Dr Rohan Lulham and industrial designer Douglas Tomkin, formed the UTS project team. "The learning needs of these prisoners are unique and the design had to respond to that."

The resultant design model, including prefabricated classroom modules, furniture and landscaping designed by Munro and Bradley, was constructed by inmates involved in St Heliers Correctional Centre's building construction program and trucked 400 miles to Kempsey. The design plan includes indoor-outdoor study spaces, places for reflection and connection with the environment, as well as modern learning technologies, and is modulated to adapt to the needs of large classes, small groups and one-on-one teaching.

The ILC project is one example of the work undertaken by the Corrective Services NSW and the UTS Designing Out Crime partnership. Other current projects include the development of a modular prefabricated housing system for remote indigenous communities with Corrective Service Industries.

Thinking Inside the Box outlines the entire process, realisation and methods for post-occupancy evaluation of the facility.

Open: Monday to Friday, 10am–5pm