Taming Noise Behind Bars #Acoustics23

Prisons can be noisy places, but thoughtful design can lower stress and improve conditions for both staff and prisoners.

SYDNEY, Dec. 6, 2023 – Prisons are typically noisy environments, filled with clanking metal bars and echoing concrete surfaces. This level of constant noise is harmful to both prisoners and staff, but there are few guidelines for designing better, quieter facilities.

James Boland, an acoustician for SLR Consulting, employed insights from the field of sensory criminology to better understand the unique acoustic needs inside prison environments. His presentation will take place Dec. 6 at 2:40 p.m. Australian Eastern Daylight Time, as part of Acoustics 2023 Sydney, running Dec. 4-8 at the International Convention Centre Sydney.


Sound and noise inside prisons can affect both staff and inmates, so a thorough understanding of that noise is crucial when designing prison spaces. Credit: Helen Farley

“Sensory criminology examines how sensory experiences, such as sight, sound, and touch, influence and shape perceptions of crime and justice,” said Boland. “It emphasizes the impact of auditory elements on the experiences of both prisoners and staff and considers how the constant noise contributes to the overall atmosphere, perceptions, and communication within the prison environment.”

Auditory guidelines for prisons are often adapted from existing protocols for schools and hospitals. However, prisons are unique environments with different relationships to sound and noise. For instance, both prisoners and staff rely on noise to gauge the level of social tension. A prison that is ‘too quiet’ can sometimes be worse than one that is too loud.

In the context of prisons, acoustic design can contribute to transforming communication dynamics and alleviating negative social interactions. By focusing on speech intelligibility, strategic reduction of noise levels, and the incorporation of privacy considerations, acoustic design can significantly improve the overall prison environment. Creating distinct zones within the prison and balancing moments of quiet with activity are essential to fostering a more comfortable and secure space.

“The crux lies in recognizing the significance of ‘noise’ from the perspective of those inhabiting these spaces,” said Boland. “For prisoners, it’s about how sound influences their outlook in terms of power or dynamic safety in their daily lives, while for staff, it becomes a tool for decision-making and maintaining safety for themselves and those under their care.”

By seeking input from the people who occupy and live in these spaces, Boland hopes to gain an understanding of the complex role of sound inside prisons. Such an understanding could lead to better guidelines for current and future prison facilities, benefiting everyone inside.

“Ultimately, thoughtful acoustic design in prisons can directly influence the lived experiences of individuals, promoting positive social interactions and supporting rehabilitation efforts,” said Boland.


AIP Media


The Acoustical Society of America is joining the Australian Acoustical Society to co-host Acoustics 2023 Sydney. This collaborative event will incorporate the Western Pacific Acoustics Conference and the Pacific Rim Underwater Acoustics Conference.

Main meeting website: https://acoustics23sydney.org/
Technical program: https://eppro01.ativ.me/src/EventPilot/php/express/web/planner.php?id=ASAFALL23

In the coming weeks, ASA’s Press Room will be updated with newsworthy stories and the press conference schedule at https://acoustics.org/asa-press-room/.

ASA will also share dozens of lay language papers about topics covered at the conference. Lay language papers are summaries (300-500 words) of presentations written by scientists for a general audience. They will be accompanied by photos, audio, and video. Learn more at

ASA will grant free registration to credentialed and professional freelance journalists. If you are a reporter and would like to attend the meeting or virtual press conferences, contact AIP Media Services at media@aip.org. For urgent requests, AIP staff can also help with setting up interviews and obtaining images, sound clips, or background information.

The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) is the premier international scientific society in acoustics devoted to the science and technology of sound. Its 7,000 members worldwide represent a broad spectrum of the study of acoustics. ASA publications include The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (the world’s leading journal on acoustics), JASA Express Letters, Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics, Acoustics Today magazine, books, and standards on acoustics. The society also holds two major scientific meetings each year. See https://acousticalsociety.org/.

The Australian Acoustical Society (AAS) is the peak technical society for individuals working in acoustics in Australia. The AAS aims to promote and advance the science and practice of acoustics in all its branches to the wider community and provide support to acousticians. Its diverse membership is made up from academia, consultancies, industry, equipment manufacturers and retailers, and all levels of Government. The Society supports research and provides regular forums for those who practice or study acoustics across a wide range of fields The principal activities of the Society are technical meetings held by each State Division, annual conferences which are held by the State Divisions and the ASNZ in rotation, and publication of the journal Acoustics Australia. https://www.acoustics.org.au/

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