What would happen if inmates were given the chance to have a say in what the spaces in which they lived looked like? This is the very thing that happened for a group of 18 inmates from County Jail No. 5 in San Francisco, The LA Times reported, Monday, Aug. 18. The group got to be a part of a restorative justice workshop that allowed them to share their feelings about the physical spaces within correctional facilities. Further, inmates were able to offer up their ideas and suggestions towards new architectural design for those spaces.
Most of the inmate attendees were awaiting trial for violent crimes, noted Fast Design. Tradition holds that jail time is a form of punishment, arbitrated by the law which forcibly confines lawbreakers by denying them certain freedoms. That seems to go without saying, but correctional facilities are, more often than not, dehumanising. Perhaps to some, this seems fair. Criminals, after all, have (until and if proven otherwise) committed injustices and deserve to be punished, yes?
There is a growing number of people who believe that a plan for rehabilitation that includes the input of those incarcerated can lower their odds of repeating former offenses or even committing new ones. Restorative justice workshop leaders, designer/architect Deanna VanBuren and Barb Toews, restorative justice scholar and author, are two such people. They ask us to look at the facts and statistics. The Washington Post reported last year that US prisons house more people than do any other prisons, worldwide. Over 2.4 million people circulate throughout America’s prison system. That number reflects approximately one-fourth of the total amount of people imprisoned worldwide. To put this into even clearer perspective, the 2.4 million American prisoners reported equates to about one out of every hundred Americans that are in jail.
In the past, the U.S. prison system seemed to focus on attempts to reform lawbreakers into productive members of society. This does not seem to be true anymore. The system keeps a growing number of prisoners in its binds and focuses more on punishment than rehabilitation. Spaces for criminals are often stark, cold and sectioned off from humanity where forms of torture such as solitary confinement (as termed by the U.N.) are implemented.
Once released, a huge number of those prisoners end up re-committing crimes. This seems to be a different story than in other countries. When rehabilitation is a focus in prison systems, statistics seem to report that rehabilitation is not only possible, but evident.
Input received from workshop participants included features such as natural light, partitions in places such as bathrooms and showers, and spacious healing centers, reported LA Times. Inmates were reported to feel hopeful about their contributions. The workshops gave the inmates a voice. “We have to listen to everyone, and victims and perpetrators don’t generally have much of a voice…,” related Linda Bernauer, chair of the American Institute of Architects’ Academy of Architecture for Justice, to the press. “The intent [of these workshops] is to talk about how therapeutic spaces can provide better outcomes and have architects be the leaders as opposed to just being hired to do what we’re told.”