Green prison shows up failings in our priorities

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 November, 2010, 12:00am

The conditions and sustainability of prisons around the world often fail to capture sufficient public attention, let alone support, for the use of public funds to improve facilities. It is therefore a tribute to the Hong Kong Architectural Services Department and the Correctional Services Department that they continue to think of ways to ease the overcrowding in our prisons, and design an environmentally sustainable jail in Lo Wu. It illustrates perfectly an admirable trait of the Hong Kong public and the criminal justice system in which the primary hope is that criminals are rehabilitated during their time in jail so that they can contribute constructively to society upon their release. Subjecting them to overcrowded prisons to live in unpleasant conditions is more likely to incite resentment and a feeling of marginalisation than rehabilitation.

It is, however, ironic that our convicted criminals have been able to benefit from focused and enlightened environmental planning, while law-abiding citizens so often find their living and working spaces compromised by a whole host of factors. The buildings we live and work in, it seems, must either be in the right location, or include car parks and malls, or be connected to various transport networks - all for the sake of subscribing to outdated notions of what might increase the value or practicality of a development. No such considerations apply when building a prison.

The award-winning jail has been able to go ahead free from such concerns, and up to 1,400 female inmates will soon be living in the HK1.2 billion facility. One of its most attractive features is a design which allows for a fully ventilated indoor environment so that no air-conditioners are required, while a green roof will also help lower temperatures. If only all our buildings met such standards.

The design shows it is possible in Hong Kong to build such buildings, or live without air-conditioning. As the prison demonstrates, the problem with green planning, whether it is for an individual building or for a whole city, lies not in any practical difficulty, but with our own failure to reorder our priorities.