Detroit House of Correction

Proposed Plans of the Detroit House of Correction

By  Albert Kahn Architect

The plan of the new Detroit House of Correction is the result of a careful survey of the most recently designed penological institutions and the assembling of what was considered best about them, adding such features as seemed desirable to the Hoard of Commissioners and its architect.

Correlation of Divisions

Foremost in the general scheme is the proper correlation of the various divisions, for administration, the admission, care, and education of prisoners; the workshops and recreation courts. With all, the idea of preserving the prisoner's self-respect as far as possible and impressing him with the idea that while he must receive deserved punishment, every chance of rehabilitation is offered him.

Ten Cell Blocks

On both sides of the central wing are placed the cell blocks, connected by a corridor wide enough to serve as recreation space. By this arrangement privacy is assured the prisoners and freedom from the gaze of visitors to the more public departments of the institution. Ten cell blocks, five on each side, and each three stories high, afford opportunity for the segregation of prisoners, which is so essential. General baths and barber-shops are placed in the center of each group. The cell blocks in the main are of the outside type, though for the most hardened prisoners and for punishment some inside cells are provided. The floors, however, are entirely separated, the regulation cell block being avoided.


The prisoners enter by a private drive, and through one of the exterior courts, into the receiving room, which is adjacent to the social service offices and close to the administrative offices.


The kitchen and main dining-room occupy the extreme south end of the center wing, and the latter is accessible to the prisoners without traversing the more public corridors. Directly above the dining-room is placed the auditorium, with a stage, all equally accessible to the prisoners. Opposite the auditorium is the chapel. The second floor of the administration building is given over to the hospital, dispensary, etc.; the third floor to classrooms and library; also quarters for guards.

A Modern Factory

The power and heating plant is located on the center axis north of the Industrial Building. The general laundry adjoins the heating plant. On the second floor of this building the gymnasium is placed. This building divides the open space into two courts for the recreation of the two classes of prisoners. Each court is adequate, in size for baseball and other games. The ground occupied rises considerably to the north, whereby opportunity is offered to keep the recreation courts fully 12 feet below the first floor level, and for a full basement, which affords ample and well-lighted space for the Commissary Department, tailor shop, shoe shop, and other shops and store-rooms of all kinds.


Prison Walls Obviated

As will be noted, save for a short connecting wall, the buildings themselves form the enclosure of the courts, whereby forbidding walls are obviated.

The buildings throughout will be fireproof constructed, in the main of reinforced concrete, and faced on the exterior with tapestry brick. Spanish tile will be used for the roof of the center building. Such trimmings as occur will be of Bedford limestone. The exterior is treated in the character of Lombard brick architecture, which style lends itself particularly well to the problem. All ostentation has been avoided and architectural effect has been sought in the general grouping and proportions rather than in the ornamentation; nevertheless, the psychology of attractive buildings has not been overlooked.

Particular attention will be paid to the proper setting of the buildings and to the planting of trees and shrubs about them. Placed a considerable distance back from the main road, and partially concealed by trees and the undulating land, a certain degree of privacy desired by the Board will be secured.

The aim of the Board and its architect throughout has been to produce a group of buildings economical in construction and maintenance, though attractive and sanitary, and easy of supervision, while assuring the prisoners privacy and comfort. Through proper surroundings it is hoped to strengthen their manhood.