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Ho’okipa Cottage Renovation rendering of exterior sheltered patio in lawn off of single story building

Beyond the Building: Advocating for Equity in Justice Design

Joanna Wozniak

At the recent Academy of Architecture for Justice Conference, I had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion on thoughtfully looking at the future of social justice, what we refer to as equity in the justice system, and how it impacts our building typologies and community assets. These unique discussions explored the intersections between the fields of justice, education, healthcare, and housing as well as the focus on resources and evidence-based support systems that are needed in a healthy society.

Step down living room with orange arm chairs and brown couches off of a dining room, partially separated by a green partition

Ho’okipa Cottage in Kailua, HI. Image © DLR Group.

Relationships Make the Difference

Based on academic research and lessons learned from existing rehabilitative programs, we know that healthy family relationships are among the strongest factors that have a positive impact on the incarcerated, their children, and their loved ones. Building relationships has the ability to improve the cause-and-effect cycle of recidivism and reduce the social, economic, educational, and health consequences to those affected. What we offer as architects and engineers is the expertise on how to design and weave spaces that facilitate these connections into the justice facilities and communities that need them. How can architects and designers best influence family functioning and human connection?

Exterior of Marysville Civic Center in Washington. A multistory building with glass facade

Marysville Civic Center in Marysville, WA. Photo by Ed Sozinho.

Community Partners

To help answer this complicated question, we coupled our knowledge with representatives of non-profits who have a unique perspective and work directly with those impacted by the system. We brought to light the stories of incarcerated women recording themselves reading books to be mailed directly to their children; the stories of incarcerated individuals who view prison as a cocoon that nurtured opportunities they would not have otherwise; and the stories of volunteer mentors that commit to educating and engaging the children of incarcerated parents.

While these organization positively impact the lives of those in the justice system, they often face barriers in the spaces where the people who need the support are housed. Those mothers who read storybooks are often recording in noisy corridors due to lack of dedicated private space; those incarcerated individuals who have a positive outlook on their detention or corrections experience often lack accessible and welcoming visitation rooms to connect with their loved ones; and those mentors who dedicate time to engaging at-risk youth often lack flexible and comfortable spaces to educate in their communities.

Interior room in Marysville Civic Center with rows of seat facing wood desks, large windows behind

Marysville Civic Center in Marysville, WA. Photo by Ed Sozinho.

A Place at the Table

Government and policy aren’t enough. Agencies often lean on non-profits to provide the critical rehabilitative support described above. And yet, these organizations are not at the table when it comes time to plan facilities. But there is good news. As stewards of the public built environment, we are tasked with researching and understanding the mission, not only of the government agencies, but of those with whom they partner. We educate ourselves on unique community needs, and we show up to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Most importantly, we don’t forget that those who are incarcerated are people, often with children, partners, and dreams of making a positive impact on society one day.

Increasingly, the planning and design process brings all stakeholders to the table to assess specific needs within the built environment.  And together, we are preparing spaces for a more equitable, healing, and transformative environment for individuals and the communities where they live.

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Joanna Wozniak
Connect with me to start a conversation ➔ Joanna Wozniak, Architect


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