Think of a prison and you might think of an imposing building surrounded by barbed wired, flood lights and extensive alarm systems.
So it may come as a surprise that a prison in Sweden recently won an award for being environmentally friendly.
The building is also wrapped in 6,000 square meters of insulting glass, which regulates its temperature — and has built-in alarms.
The prison building is wrapped in special insulting glass. Credit: Kriminalvarden
“The judges were impressed by the way they had tackled sustainability issues through the physicality of the building, regardless of security issues,” said Alan Yates, chair of the judging panel.
A green roof and greener sentence
Bought in 2010 by Swedish company Vasce, Tabellen 4 was adapted by working alongside the Swedish Prison and Probation service (Kriminalvarden).
Vegetation and turf “protects the roof from [solar] radiation, rainfall and temperature changes,” as well helping “facilitate the run-off of surface water onto the property, while also enabling pollination … for insects,” said Sara Jägermo, Vasce’s head of property.
This is “of most importance since the bee population is declining,” Jägermo said, adding that “mixed vegetation around the building” has the additional benefit of creating a “more harmonious impression.”
A green roof helps to protect the dwindling bee population. Credit: Vasce
Other features include installing low-flush wet rooms that reduce water consumption, fridges that are more energy-efficient and shifting to LED lighting, which can be switched on and off from a central surveillance center.
The building is heated and cooled using a mechanical ventilation system, which recycles energy in the air. According to Vasce, this system has reduced the energy used for heating by 50-60%.
In addition all food waste from the prison kitchen is converted into biogas, 12% of the food offered is organic and at least two meals per week are vegetarian, according to Patrik Snellman, formerly assistant governor of Sollentuna.
There is also an underground corridor connecting the prison, prosecutor’s office and court house, so “prisoners can be transported safely without cars,” said Snellman.
Benefitting the world — and prisoner wellbeing
The improvements to Tabellen 4 are part of a wider effort from the Kriminalvarden to increase the wellbeing of people who interact with prisons.
“Employees, detainees, relatives and other visitors have presumed higher stress levels in an institutional environment like this,” said Jägermo. “Research clearly shows that people are more contented in verdant settings, have better concentration and demonstrate more empathy, which, in turn, leads to better results, improved concentration and less sick leave.”
The Swedish Prison and Probation service prioritize access to nature, shown here in a common room in Kumla prison, another prison in Sweden. Credit: Kriminalvarden
Are eco-friendly prisons the future?
According to BRE, Tabellen 4 highlights the diversity of building types focusing on environmental improvement.
Sollentuna is not the first prison to aim towards sustainability.
But the lessons to be learnt from Tabellen 4 extend further than prisons, according to Yates.
“Just because you’ve got limitations, don’t dismiss the opportunities that exist,” said Yates. “Yes, it will limit what you can do, but that’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean that you can’t tackle sustainability as an issue. You really ought to.”