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What kind of prison might the inmates design?

August 22, 2014

Together, they created a vision and called it “Do No Harm” room. A picture window with a mountain view. A door that locks from the inside. Plants and rugs. The workshop dynamic shifted.

Later, Toews wondered, “If we treated it as a potential for something literal, if the environment were different, how might that change how we do justice?”

She was exploring the question as a doctoral student a few years ago when VanBuren tracked her down. “I could not believe that someone had similar interests to me,” Toews said. “It was the craziest, luckiest thing.”

….In a closing circle after the presentation, [Anthony] Pratt, who recently participated in a restorative justice-style circle with his girlfriend, said his whole outlook had changed: “Instead of being barbarians and just beating each other upside the head, we can be like family.”

VanBuren said she is encouraging big architecture firms that design jails and prisons to hold similar workshops with inmates and guards.

“The goal is to empower those inside the institutions and prod architects to actually talk to the people they are designing for,” she said. “That’s how an architect would practice in any other setting.”

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