In response to the crisis caused by the prison industrial complex cities like Oakland are working towards the creation of a restorative justice city by developing new policies, education and training rooted in these philosophies and systems. In support of these efforts On May 6th FOURM design studio joined, Bright Research Group and The Institute for the Future to facilitate a workshop on the creation of a physical infrastructure for the expansion of restorative justice in the City of Oakland. To the best of my knowledge it would be the first workshop where designers and researchers would team up with restorative justice practitioners, local government and criminal justice stakeholders to investigate the spaces, places and infrastructural programming needed to support the rise of restorative practices.
Our day began with a peacemaking circle beautifully opened by Sujatha Baliga and Nuri Nusrat of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. It was a chance for us to get a taste of what it feels like to be in circle and to open dialogue on the values of our current justice architecture. Our circle collectively shared words like grandeur, linearity, isolation, fear and power around our experiences of courthouses, jails, prisons and detention centers. In a second round those in the circle shared their story around an image they had chosen from a large pile we collected for the day. Using restorative justice philosophies and values as a starting point the leaders in the group held up images of nature, home spaces, breaking bread and freedom as qualities of spaces where we feel truly nourished and safe. How could these be applied to our Justice Spaces?
I spoke to the group about work being done in evidenced based design to create spaces that heal better and presented the million dollar blocks mapping project as a case study in our justice architecture. I also showed efforts we had made on a smaller scale to address a need we had found for built spaces where circles for peacemaking could occur. However, it was when we broke into small groups that the innate knowledge of the experts in our community emerged instantly with little provocation. We asked leaders to respond to queries such as:
Why do we need a restorative justice center or infrastructure and what community needs could it respond to? What is the current RJ infrastructure like in Oakland now? How does this facilitate or prevent your organization from achieving its goals?
As we came together in a large group many leaders agreed that there was a need for an infrastructure that was micro localized where on site restorative practices could happen. Jason Walsh from Community works spoke about the need for a ”space” linked to practitioners in the community. I partnered with Lieutenant Armstrong of the Oakland Police Department who spoke about the need for an emotionally safe place in our communities where we could learn new behaviors around resolving conflict when it arises. He also identified our recreation centers as places where this could occur picking up on the theme of adapting and enhancing existing buildings for Restorative Justice practices than many leaders agreed on as one strategy for moving forward.
These needs and assets were then mapped over the City of Oakland with labeled game pieces and blanks for new ideas and suggestions where leaders were able to investigate the infrastructure they would need to address their goals. Where does it go? How do you get there?
Our three groups generated a diverse and exciting range of ideas that included the incorporation of food justice to conscious social services that would be incorporated into mixed use restorative centers addressing a variety of needs. Retreat centers in the Oakland hills with associated transportation emerged from one group while another thoughtfully deliberated over the creation of neutral zones. Was it possible given our current context? Many explored the development of a Central RJ center . Some suggested it would be needed as a center for creating new policy and where the training of police, city officials and staff would occur. Others included re-entry, social services and day reporting into this module. All groups looked at a distributed network of RJ centers mixed with criminal justice and social service components that targeted the keys areas of Fruitvale, East Oakland West Oakland, Downtown and some in North Oakland. As this new layer of restorative infrastructure started to emerge it was exciting to get a visual representation of how we could begin to support great change in our communities.
I was humbled and grateful that these amazing change makers took their time to participate in first stages of creating this vision. I also know they believe in this new paradigm and understand that it will take all of us working together across an array of disciplines and sectors to make it a reality. I believe there was great momentum and excitement among our leaders and for me the Creating a Restorative Future for Oakland workshop was truly one of the most rewarding professional moments I have had along this journey. I know that on the day I walk through a landscaped courtyard across a barrier free threshold to our first restorative justice center I will never forget it was born of the efforts we made that day.