Skip to content
CityLab
Design

Designing a Way out of Mass Incarceration

An Oakland-based firm is developing architecture to support restorative justice.
Deanna Van Buren, right, works with an inmate on a restorative justice design.
Deanna Van Buren, right, works with an inmate on a restorative justice design.Lee Romney/Designing Justice + Designing Spaces

As it stands today, criminal justice in the U.S. exists inside an architecture of isolation: those within the system are shuffled between courthouses and prisons, which are separated from society by thick walls and high fences.

“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,” says Barbara Toews, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Washington Tacoma. 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,” Toews says.