Restorative Justice: Creating Space for Restoring Lives
I was very interested in a recent New York Times article describing New York City’s implementation of a $130 million investment in restorative justice programs and initiatives: “The new plan will shift emphasis from punishment for minor crimes to treatment…tripling pretrial diversion program and the amount of resources devoted to easing transition from jail back into society.”
New York’s program is one of many new justice models being developed across the country that seek to bring the justice system into a closer relationship to the communities they serve, focusing on treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment and incarceration. Providing more treatment and community program options for low-level offenders seems to be an emerging trend nationally. California’s recent shift of responsibility for low-level felony offenders from the state system to local counties represents a similar shift at a much larger scale.
As justice architects, we are called to explore how design of justice facilities can help support our communities as they develop strategies for implementing restorative justice practices. Some wonder how this new focus changes facility design.
I recently worked through an extensive programming and planning exercise with a county juvenile courts facility. This is a county in which the court system has embraced treatment programs as an alternative to punitive detention for juveniles. The court building needed to accommodate a host of treatment providers, a community resource center, and courtrooms that could support multi-party interactions in the courtroom for their drug and family treatment courts. It also needed a place for graduation parties at the completion of treatment programs!
In this model the court facility is no longer just a place to get punished, it is a place for families and juveniles to engage with judges, volunteers and community resource providers to help families heal by receiving the support they need. An architectural response supporting this vision includes integration of multiple function areas into a court facility model that delivers both court and social services.
Similarly, an interest in expanding treatment programs and providing safe, normative environments in detention facilities, is allowing us to explore new architectural strategies to support these new facility models for detention environments. While security, safety, and efficiency of operations still underpin the facility designs, integrating design ideas from normative housing and academic environments allows the resulting facilities to feel less alienating.
If the design helps inmates and correctional officers feel more comfortable and safe, then positive interactions and treatment success stories become a reality rather than a rarity. Our role in design is shifting to help determine just the right balance of security, operational requirements and “softening” elements such as normative furnishings, use of color and access to natural light and views. When the environmental cues calm behavior and create positive interactions, everyone benefits!
With so many new justice models available to explore, clients are now reconsidering where their unique model falls along the continuum of justice options. And we have the privilege of exploring those options with them to create dynamic facilities and programs that help restore lives through justice architecture.