Designing Justice + Designing Spaces

Designer Deanna VanBuren has taken a unique approach to restorative justice: she not only envisions the use of design as the tool for enabling restorative justice, through the creation of (physically) safe spaces, but with the help of restorative justice practitioner Barb Toews, they involve prison inmates in the design process and facilitate discussions around topics of restorative justice in the correctional facilities where they lead these workshops. The ultimate goal of VanBuren’s “justice architecture” might be to affect sustainable change in the criminal justice system through the construction of “just spaces”- spaces that facilitate conversations on “concepts such as accountability, healing, respect, love, and forgiveness” (DJ+DS Toolkit, 2015). But the act of involving inmates in the dialogues surrounding restorative justice is already a tremendous show of faith and trust, which is in itself a form of restorative justice.

The previous two programs focus on fighting the school-to-prison pipeline as early as possible, in schools, with young students. DJ+DS, on the other hand, seeks to aid in the healing of those already within the system, and in doing so, to heal parts of the system from within. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of DJ+DS is the amount of trust and respect for the participants of the workshops: these are people who, having committed serious crimes, are generally treated as unworthy of kindness or respect. While this project might not be explicitly related to concepts of culturally responsive teaching, it shares many of the values. Because people of color constitute a disproportionate part of the United States prison population (NAACP, n.d.), working with prison inmates requires an equally intimate understanding of their culture and sociopolitical context as does teaching children. Many of these people likely did not have access to culturally responsive teaching, or restorative justice, in their youth, so it would seem natural to grant them this opportunity now: to show them the respect and trust that is essential to healing and growing.

For a more in-depth look at the DJ+DS workshops, browse their “toolkit” here:

Or visit the DJ+DS website: