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Designing a New Justice System

December 14, 2016

Oakland-based firm Designing Justice + Designing Spaces (DJDS) is disrupting and reconceptualizing the United States justice system through environmental design. Traditional prison architecture is based on ideas of punishment and isolation, reflecting a justice ethos of giving those considered guilty “what they deserve.” DJDS, however, is imagining an architecture to support programming that reflects a newer and alternative model of restorative justice — a people-driven approach that promotes open dialogue between offenders and victims, transformation and healing, and ultimately, respect. Recognizing the necessary infrastructure — where people will live, train, and engage in reentry programs if not in prison —  as one of the restorative justice model’s greatest hurdles, DJDS is developing an architectural response to de-incarceration that supports reformative programs.

“‘Our dominant justice system is framed around three questions: What law was broken, who did it, and what do they deserve—with the deserving part being about punishment’ . . . And punishment, in the context of this system, equates to removal from society. ‘We rush to incarceration, as opposed to thinking about other ways of doing justice.’”

Since 2013, DJDS has held Designing from the Inside Out workshops with groups of incarcerated people in prisons across the country to collaboratively develop infrastructure that supports this entirely new system of justice. DJDS projects range from single buildings — like the Near Westside Peacemaking Center, a collaboration between DJDS, UPSTATE, and Ashley McGraw Architects to create a place for healing conversation — to continuously evolving projects — like The Pop-Up Resource Village in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood, which addresses recidivism by providing access to educational, social service, and economic resources deployed throughout the community in a variety of mobile structures, like reclaimed buses. Although restorative justice has proved successful in many countries and has also taken root in the US as a potential alternative to juvenile detention, reforming the current prison system ethos is a massive undertaking, and DJDS must rely on philanthropic funding to prove its measures successful before cities begin to fund such radically new infrastructure with tax dollars. “Right now, we’re just trying to create some new model and think about what restorative justice can look like on the scale of a single room, and at the scale of a city . . . It’s one piece of a much bigger picture, but for now, we’re the only people doing this kind of work.”

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Image courtesy of Echoing Green

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