30 Most Architecturally Impressive Prisons in the World

Life inside prison may not be the prettiest at times, but that doesn’t mean prison buildings themselves need to be unattractive. Across the United States and internationally, inmates are doing their time or waiting it out pending trials in some very aesthetically appealing facilities. Some of these are modern institutions, featuring up-to-date technology or eco-friendly elements that help save both running costs and the planet, while others have been standing for over a century and boast truly iconic architecture. Read on for 30 of the most architecturally impressive prisons in the world.

30. Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Cleveland’s eye-catching Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center comes courtesy of local architects Ralph Tyler Companies, who were commissioned to develop a new facility to replace the out-of-date and overpopulated juvenile court in the area. U.S.-wide firm Heery also had a hand in the project, the result of which is a modern, gleaming building comprising a courthouse, intervention center, and a detention facility with 185 beds to house juveniles awaiting court appearances. Green factors such as the use of sustainable materials and energy-saving technology have also helped to earn it a LEED Silver certificate. Long in planning, Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center was finished in 2011.

29. Roy McMurtry Youth Centre, Brampton, Canada

The southern Ontario city of Brampton plays host to the smartly conceived Roy McMurtry Youth Centre, which caters for up to 192 male and female young offenders. This institution was designed by Toronto firm Kleinfeldt Mychajlowycz Architects, and masonry, concrete and weathering steel panels were used in its construction. The center sits amid the appealing greenery of a local park and incorporates two renovated buildings from a former women’s prison that stood on the site. It was also designed to meet LEED Silver accreditation through sustainable features such as the employment of natural lighting to help curb energy use. Completed in 2009, the center was shortlisted at that year’s World Architecture Festival.

28. East Jutland State Prison, Enner Mark, Denmark

Completed in 2006, Denmark’s East Jutland State Prison is set in a rather idyllic seeming area amongst the hills and lush green fields of Enner Mark. The design comes courtesy of Danish architects Friis & Moltke, with the yellow building exteriors arguably more appealing-looking than the standard gray facades of many prison facilities. Still, although the prison may look stylish, it also has a host of security features to ensure that none of its prisoners are likely to escape. Due to its wealth of cameras both inside and outside the buildings, fingerprint scanners, motion sensors, sizable walls and a pair of extensive fences, it has been named as the securest jail in the country.

27. Toronto South Detention Centre, Toronto, Canada

International firm Zeidler Partnership Architects were responsible for the brand new Toronto South Detention Centre, which cost a remarkable $557 million. The modern, glass-enclosed design of this men’s prison facility almost makes it look like a conference center. The building – scheduled to have begun admitting prisoners in 2013 – incorporates what has been described as “Skype-like technology” in its visitation area: inmates and their loved ones no longer talk through a glass partition but can see each other via a video link instead. One day, it may even be possible for the incarcerated to speak to persons situated away from the prison, too. Bruce O’Neill, spokesman for the Corrections Ministry, says of the state-of-the-art facility, “[This jail] will be the model for institutions like this, I think, for years to come.”

26. Lubyanka Prison, Moscow, Russia

Host to a local prison, Moscow’s striking Neo-Baroque Lubyanka has a long if sometimes shadowy history. It wasn’t always a government building, though: following the construction of the yellow brick-fronted edifice in 1898, it became the head office of the All-Russia Insurance Company. However, after the Bolshevik Revolution, it was commandeered to accommodate the offices of the Cheka – the Soviet secret police at the time – and would later serve the same function for the KGB. Alexander V. Ivanov designed the structure in 1897, although acclaimed Russian architect Aleksey Shchusev was responsible for the extensions and decorative accents that were added between 1940 and 1947.

25. Halden Prison, Halden, Norway

Halden Prison is starkly minimalist in its appearance but no less attractive for this fact. What’s more, inside it is said to be equally appealing, with the The Guardian remarking that “the environment feels more Scandinavian boutique hotel than class A prison.” Denmark’s Erik Møller Arkitekter and Norway’s HLM Arkitektur joined forces to come up with the design for the prison, which incorporates galvanized steel and untreated wood and was opened in 2010. It is among the highest-security facilities of its kind in Norway but is thoroughly humane – in keeping with the country’s justice system, where rehabilitation takes precedence over punishment.

24. Justice Center Leoben, Styria, Austria

Completed in 2004, Austria’s Justice Center Leoben contains both a prison area and a court in one stylish, thoroughly modern-looking facility that, thanks to its shatterproof glass façade, is filled with natural light. Graz-based architect Josef Hohensinn’s design incorporates soundproofed ceilings to reduce noise, while the detention areas themselves are set up as residential spaces catering for as many as 15 people. Every unit has a lounge, gym and small kitchen area, so inmates are able to cook and work out with greater flexibility. According to Hohensinn, there’s a good reason why prisoners are given a more dignified experience behind bars. He says, “They are criminals, but they are also human beings. The more normal a life you give them here, the less necessary it is to resocialize them when they leave.”

23. Yancheng Prison, Suzhou, China

You might think that Yancheng Prison, in China’s Jiangsu Province, looks a little familiar even if you’ve never been to the country, much less been incarcerated there. This is because the design for the main building was apparently inspired by another notable structure: the White House. Building commenced on the prison in 2000, and its first phase – which serves detention and rehabilitation purposes – was finished nine years later. An artificially created river travels through the grounds of the facility, and inmates can reportedly enjoy a game of basketball on one of the prison’s six courts. This so-called “luxury jail” and others like it across China have been built to detain corrupt bureaucrats. Some people, however, worry that the prisons’ plush facilities might encourage convicts to reoffend.

22. FPC Yankton, Yankton, South Dakota, USA

South Dakota’s Federal Prison Camp (FPC) Yankton is based on what was the site of Yankton College – whose buildings, like the handsome quartzite edifice picture above, have been preserved. The structure, previously known as Middle Hall, had the honor of being the first building to be constructed on campus, its cornerstone having been set down in 1882. The liberal arts college taught generations of students from 1882 to 1983, when it was shut down as a result of financial insolvency. After the campus lay empty for several years, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons bought it to repurpose as a minimum-security prison, and FPC Yankton is now home to around 850 male inmates.

21. Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Detention Facility, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

Worldwide firm AECOM helped plan and design the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Detention Facility, which opened its doors in 2007. Located in Scottsdale, Arizona, this correctional institution cost $19.3 million to build and houses male and female adults as well as juvenile inmates. The facility is intended to represent the time-honoured values of the Native American community and, through its design, takes inspiration from the surrounding geography. Its light and dark masonry hints at the stratification of the banks of the Salt River, while the roofs are shaped to evoke mesas, and the green color of the windows are a nod to the hues found in the local landscape.

20. Lexington-Fayette Detention Center, Lexington, Kentucky, USA

Out of date and overpopulated facilities in Kentucky’s Lexington area led to the construction of the attractive Lexington-Fayette Detention Center, which was dedicated in 2000 and features a fountain by its entrance. Much of the institution is obscured in a recess, and the center’s administration building (shown above) was made to look specifically like an equine facility – such structures being prevalent in the area, which is known as “horse country.” Lexington Director of Detentions Ray Sabbatine has said of the building, “We’ve gotten a lot of publicity because the place looks like a horse barn.” Daniel Mann Johnson & Mendenhall (now part of AECOM) came up with the appealing design for the place, which can accommodate up to 2,048 inmates of any security level.

19. Metropolitan Correctional Center, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago’s 28-story Metropolitan Correctional Center has an exercise yard that, unusually, is situated on the roof of the building. As a result, inmates at the facility are able to enjoy towering views of the city and experience that famous Chicago wind while they keep fit. The triangular-shaped building was the brainchild of Chicago architect Harry Weese, and the façade is covered with arrow hole-like slits – 5-inch by 7-foot openings each of which is a window for a cell. Completed in 1975, the unique structure houses both men and women prisoners of any security level before or for the duration of trials as well as those serving short sentences.

18. Anamosa State Penitentiary, Anamosa, Iowa, USA

Anamosa State Penitentiary in Iowa almost looks more like a grand European mansion than a current prison. It was built by detainees back in the late 19th century, primarily using Anamosa limestone, after the prison in Fort Madison was determined to be too small to meet the growing number of incarcerated individuals in Iowa. Anamosa State Penitentiary was completed in full in 1899, although construction work began much earlier, in 1875. This maximum-security men’s prison was designed in the Gothic Revival style by local firm Foster & Liebbe, and today it even boasts a dedicated museum just beyond its periphery detailing the prison’s history and assembly.

17. Maasberg Juvenile Detention, Overloon, Netherlands

The beautiful timber structure pictured is situated in a small, wooded area in the village of Overloon, in the Netherlands, and is one of the buildings of Maasberg Juvenile Detention. Dutch firm UArchitects transformed the detention center into its present form from its previous incarnation as an adult facility, and the wooden pavilion is said to be an “expression of temporality,” as the young will only be housed there for a short period. The structure’s clear, open qualities help the detainees view their surroundings and therefore see what life is like outside the center while also giving visitors a glimpse of the day-to-day business for those inside. The pavilion phase of the project was completed in 2011.

16. Cleveland Youth Detention Centre, Townsville, Australia

In late 2013, the new expansion to the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre was completed, increasing the institution’s capacity from 48 to 104 beds. It was the work of Australian firms Guymer Bailey Architects and Mode Codd Stenders, who partnered up to develop a facility for young men that would be hard-wearing and easy to maintain as well as pleasant in appearance. Cleveland Youth Detention Centre aims for a feel that is conducive to living without sacrificing security. What’s more, the facility incorporates eco-friendly touches: energy and water use is slashed by at least a fifth, and there is a cutback on the amount of waste produced.

15. Douglas County Adult Detention and Law Enforcement Center, Douglasville, Georgia, USA

Douglas County Adult Detention and Law Enforcement Center has proved that it’s one of the greenest correctional facilities on the scene after earning a LEED for New Construction certificate in 2013. Energy consumption is reduced through the use of natural daylight and sun shading, while rainwater is reused. It’s a canny financial move, as these innovations should slash energy expenditure by over $200,000 each year. And the office-like building itself – to be found in Douglasville, Georgia – was also constructed using recycled materials. The 1,500-bed facility was designed by global architectural firm HOK and opened in late 2012. It does not have any fences, but every maximum-security measure is present inside the jail complex.

14. Kenton County Detention Center, Covington, Kentucky, USA

U.S. architectural firm Brandstetter Carroll Inc. replaced the old multi-story jail in Covington, Kentucky with an attractive new facility. The new institution is double the size of the initial one and, taking inspiration from an institution in Florida, features state-of-the-art technology programming, too. It also has energy-efficient elements, such as insulated load-bearing panels on its façade, motion-sensitive lighting and a roof that regulates temperature – and it’s hoped that these innovations could save up to $100,000 in annual costs. Plans for a new jail in the area had been in the works since 1984, but the finished article didn’t open until 2010. Now, it can house up to 630 male and female adult inmates.

13. HM Prison Manchester, Manchester, U.K.

HM Prison Manchester, formerly known as Strangeways, is said to have walls so thick that they are impenetrable from both within and without. Located in northern England, the stately high-security prison can hold up to 1,269 inmates. Until 1963 it housed men and women, but then it was decided that it would be turned into a male-only institution. This prison was the brainchild of British architect Alfred Waterhouse – who is chiefly linked with the Victorian Gothic Revival architectural style – while Royal Engineer Sir Joshua Jebb also contributed. The lofty ventilation tower (seen on the right of the image) reaches a height of 234 feet and has become a landmark in the area. Completed in 1869, the prison has an interior layout that resembles the shape of a snowflake or star.

12. Marin County Jail, San Rafael, California, USA

Marin County Jail in San Rafael, California sits right next to the historic Marin County Civic Center, which is famed for being the last ever commission by prolific American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In an effort to retain the spirit of the Civic Center design, the Marin County Jail is set into the hillside, and the majority of the facility is underground. Global company AECOM designed and constructed the jail, which was completed in 1994. Unusually, perhaps, the cells don’t have any windows at all; instead, the structure is illuminated by means of artificial lights and skylights. Meanwhile, recycled gray water is used for watering greenery and flushing latrines. Both male and female inmates are housed in the facility.

11. West Kimberley Regional Prison, Derby, Australia

Australian firms TAG Architects and iredale pedersen hook teamed up to design the sleek, modern West Kimberley Regional Prison, near Derby, Western Australia, which has been described as “the world’s first culturally appropriate indigenous prison.” The project aimed to bring together Kimberley Aboriginal prisoners who were housed in jails across the country and relocate them to this medium- and minimum-security facility. In this way, the inmates could see out their time close to their communities and loved ones, thus potentially improving their mental health and likelihood of rehabilitation. During the briefing stage, the architects requested that the Kimberley Aboriginal elders speak with their communities in order to get input on developing the facility. Opened in 2012, the men and women’s prison was honored in the “Public Architecture” category at the 2013 Australian National Architecture Awards.

10. Johnson County New Century Adult Detention Center, New Century, Kansas, USA

International architects HOK and American firm Treanor Architects took care of the 554-bed expansion of Johnson County New Century Adult Detention Center. Areas of shiny black masonry match that of the original building, while profuse natural daylight cuts down on energy expenditure and provides a more agreeable environment for workers and prisoners alike. Completed in 2009, having been built with sustainability in mind, the facility incorporates recycled materials, a roof that saves energy, and water-efficient toilets. The expansion cost $52 million and can hold male prisoners of all security levels.

9. Allegheny County Jail, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

The striking Allegheny County Jail lies on the bank of the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Completed in 1995, it replaced the old jail of the same name, which was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson and is currently home to Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Family Division. The present jail facility was the work of local architects Tasso Katselas Associates, who sympathetically planned the 16-story structure so as not to overshadow Duquesne University’s neighboring Old Main Building. In fact, the jail’s color and banded motifs in brick and stone are a nod to elements of the university building. The architects say the brief for the development – which can hold as many as 2,400 men and women – was to “enforce reprimand through design, while instilling a measure of hope.”

8. Collins Bay Institution, Kingston, Canada

With its singular architecture and distinctive red crown, the Administration Building at Collins Bay Institution stands as a clearly recognizable landmark in Kingston, Ontario. The building was designed in the late Canadian Chateau style, with dormers and turrets adorning its metal-clad roof and walls made of rusticated limestone. Completed in 1943, the structure was built by inmates and has since been honored as a Recognized Federal Heritage Building. The medium-security facility itself opened in 1930 and today holds up to 492 male offenders.

7. Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, Denver, Colorado, USA

Hartman-Cox Architects from Washington, D.C. were tasked with developing the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, which is situated in Denver, Colorado. It’s part of what has been termed the city’s “justice center,” which lies across two downtown blocks and also features a courthouse. The 1,500-bed detention facility itself has been built to “speed time from arrest to arraignment” for adult male inmates who are detained there pending hearings, verdicts or placement. Rather than having bars, the cells’ windows contain super strong panes of glass. The institution, which was completed in 2010 at a cost of $159 million, was awarded a LEED Silver certification. “This will be state of the art for both the sheriff deputies as well as the inmates,” said sheriff’s deputy Reynaldo Becerra at the center’s dedication.

6. Kentucky State Penitentiary, Eddyville, Kentucky, USA

Kentucky State Penitentiary has been nicknamed the “castle on the Cumberland,” one suspects thanks to its imposing, stately design. It was constructed using huge blocks of granite over a five-year period and was formally unveiled in 1889. Before the penitentiary opened, life for the state’s incarcerated was grim: research carried out in 1875 showed that a fifth of inmates housed in the Kentucky State Prison suffered from pneumonia, while an astonishing three quarters were afflicted with scurvy. Governor Luke P. Blackburn approved the new facility in 1879 as part of his penal reform work, which also aimed to better living conditions for prisoners. The penitentiary is still used today as a maximum-security and supermax prison for male offenders.

5. Hopkins Correctional Centre, Ararat, Australia

Guymer Bailey Architects were entrusted with the design for Corella Place – a new transitional facility for men containing 40 beds – at Hopkins Correctional Centre in Ararat, Australia. Parts of the exterior such as the doors are colored yellow, which adds an element of cheer. What’s more, the buildings are energy efficient, making optimal use of natural light, cooling and ventilation, while rainwater is centrally harvested in order to flush toilets. Corella Place was opened in 2010, and there are plans to see the Hopkins Correctional Centre expanded even further.

4. USP Leavenworth, Leavenworth, Kansas, USA

USP Leavenworth in Leavenworth, Kansas may be over a century old, but it is arguably just as impressive now as it was when it was completed. St. Louis architects Eames and Young were responsible for its design, along with that of the similarly grand USP Atlanta. Prisoners from a nearby facility carried out the early parts of the construction and were the first to be locked up in the new institution in 1903. Building work continued for the next couple of decades, and the prison was finally finished in the mid-1920s. USP Leavenworth is notable for being part of the first generation of federal prisons, and it was the largest maximum-security federal penitentiary in the entire country until 2005, when it switched to become a medium-security institution. Today, it holds 1,870 male inmates.

3. Schie Prison, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Whether you find its orange- and blue-colored exterior attractive or a little on the garish side, there’s no denying the fact that the Schie prison brightens up its surroundings in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Completed in 1989, the vibrant-looking facility with a glass façade is the work of architect Carlos Weeber, now of CASArchitects, who was also responsible for the multi-hued De Peperklip housing block in the city’s port section. Inside, the Schie prison itself is also eye-catching: the 252 cells are painted in 20 different shades, and the corridors are decorated with art.

2. Union County Juvenile Detention Center, Linden, New Jersey, USA

Frank Guzzo, the director of Union County’s Department of Human Services, is full of praise for the area’s Juvenile Detention Center and labeled it a “beautiful building.” He also said, “If it wasn’t a correctional facility, it would make a great school.” The facility is based in Linden, New Jersey and opened its doors in 2008. By designing the building to feature liberal amounts of open space and daylight, architects Ricci Greene Associates hoped to make a difference to the 80 male and female detainees. As a result, Union County Juvenile Detention Center was named a joint winner at the World Architecture News Effectiveness Awards in 2011 – honoring buildings that have an impact on the public.

1. Pima County Jail, Tucson, Arizona, USA

In 2005 Pima County Jail in Tucson, Arizona finished the expansion of its premises, bringing in an extra capacity of 500 beds for medium-security offenders while simultaneously easing crowding in its single-cell units. Global firm AECOM were behind the development – and as first impressions go, the tree-decked entrance court to the shining complex is certainly impressive. The materials and colors used in the jail’s construction take their inspiration from the nearby mountains. And the design has turned the heads of those in the know, receiving the prestigious Kemper Goodwin Award from the Arizona branch of the American Institute of Architects in 2005 and the American Institute of Architects’ Certificate of Merit for the Justice Facilities Review the following year.