Prison Design Boycott Campaign

Raphael Sperry


The Prison Design Boycott for Alternatives to Incarceration is a pledge campaign launched by Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) in 2004. In some ways a response to the violence and racism of the Iraq war, the Prison Boycott turned the critique of militarism inwards to call out prisons and jails as the architectural embodiment of the domestic war on poor people of color. The Prison Boycott pledge gathered over 1,000 signatures from architects, designers, and allies, demanding an end to the construction of new jails and prisons. It is a private matter for an architect or a firm to decline projects they feel are morally or politically unacceptable, but it is a public reckoning to demand that one’s profession as a whole cease such projects. The Prison Boycott asserted that professional ethics are a ground for collective action, grounded in the professional charge to act in the public health, safety, and welfare.

ADPSR expanded the Prison Boycott in 2012 with a petition demanding that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) prohibit members from designing execution chambers and prison spaces for solitary confinement. A campaign highlight was a design competition for posters, with the winning entries mailed to deans of the 100+ schools of architecture across the United States for display in their schools. After six years of rejection, denial, and exclusion, AIA’s 2018 Code of Ethics was changed to prohibit members from ”wanton disregard of the rights of others” under the heading of human rights. This victory marks a success of intersectionality, having been driven as much by demands for AIA to address sexual harassment and gender discrimination as by human rights concerns for people in prison. More work is needed to ensure that the role of human rights within the AIA Ethics Code is widely understood, respected, and enforced.