The United States has the highest rate of incarceration of any developed nation not because of a higher rate of crime, but because of long-standing negative attitudes towards people of color and low-income communities. Incarceration results in a loss of access to employment, housing, and other opportunities, therefore discouraging people from participating fully within their communities and leading to a cycle of further incarceration.
As an alternative, restorative justice seeks to restore and repair the people and relationships impacted by crime by understanding victims’ needs and holding offenders accountable in a way that meets these needs. It brings victims and offenders together for face-to-face meetings to discuss impacts, needs, and, when appropriate, ways to repair damages. Research suggests that these encounters contribute to increased empathy, improved restitution completion, and reduced offending.
Traditionally, the structure of courtrooms and prisons reinforces an intimidating, top-down, punitive system. However, by re-thinking architecture, the actions and policies of law enforcement agencies can potentially be transformed. The work of DJDS counters the traditional adversarial and punitive architecture of justice—courthouses, prisons, and jails—by creating spaces and buildings for restorative justice, community buildings, and housing for people coming out of incarceration.
DJDS initiatives across the United States include adaptive reuse of former criminal justice infrastructure in the service of local communities and their needs, supporting peacebuilding dialogues between victims and offenders by designing or building safe environments for them to convene in, and designing mobile assets for communities, such as a bus that contains classrooms and access to guidance counselors. The organization also focuses on helping recently released prisoners shelter and reintegrate into their communities, for example, by including a center in Oakland with a restaurant where low-income and formerly incarcerated individuals can be trained for work in the fine dining industry.
The non-profit also operates the Concept Development Fund, a program that helps nonprofits and advocates transform their ideas for community infrastructure reinvestment into fully realized designs complete with budgetary outlines, imagery, and other concrete details.