Visioning for a United Community
Justice centers are becoming ever more complicated as communities evolve. What was once a building for detaining arrestees prior to sentencing is becoming a hub of services, rehabilitation processes and even community pride. This expansion of ideals and objectives creates both complexity and opportunity that, if addressed early enough in the building design process, can transform the Justice center into a truly innovative and culturally significant arena for elevating American communities. This shift in perception can curb the feelings of fear typically surrounding these types of facilities by creating an urban presence for community services and identity.
In organizing a visioning event in Miami during the Academy of Architecture for Justice in November 2015, it became evident this conversation needs to be priority for any significant urban project. The event centered on the development of a future Justice Center in downtown Miami. The goal was to look beyond the architecture and focus on the positive impact that a centralized facility could have on the urban core of a city. Government and community groups joined together to discuss how a variety of community members and groups could have a say in the operations and outcomes of the justice complex. This brought about a more unified, holistic approach to design, bring people together in their various functions rather than divisively judging or politicizing ideas and perspectives.
Together we identified three basic concepts that should be foundational to these types of meetings:
- Honor the Multi-Faceted Voices: The meeting must incorporate multi-faceted community groups and services from the beginning. These people may include public outreach, social workers advocating for families, educators, mental health and medical professionals, drug abuse support groups, geriatric support, spiritual support and any other groups wanting a place at the table.
- Encourage Two-way Listening: Government agencies and owners must be in attendance to hear concerns of the community and user groups to best advocate and respond to the desires and needs of the whole group. This opens the door to move from traditional solutions to creatively thinking outside the box to improve outcomes and reduce recidivism. Owners need to reach beyond their usual way of operations as they think and plan for the anticipated future operations.
- Establish Community-Based Priorities: The meeting needs to be at the forefront of the project, even before funding and programs are in place. This is where community-based priorities as established, often changing the focus of design. For example, conference or meeting rooms are typically the first functional spaces to be “value engineered” out of a project or minimized to meet area requirements. However these spaces may be prioritized to create positive restorative justice in the future. Visiting rooms should engage families. Classrooms should embody and honor education opportunities similar to a college or high school environment.
We’re just beginning to tap into this new mind-set in justice facility design and these agents of change will undoubtedly impact the overall quality of life in our communities.