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Designing the Future

In 2016, Impact Justice began exploring a role for architects in ending mass incarceration. We believe significant changes in the built environment are necessary to curb enforcement and confinement as responses to crime and to abolish prison as we know it.

Impact Justice partnered with legendary architect Frank Gehry and nationally known author and activist Susan Burton during the first year of our ongoing project Building Justice. Our powerful new short film tracks students at two leading schools of architecture, SCI-Arc and Yale, as they envision a not-too-distant future in which America incarcerates far fewer people in truly humane environments. It’s design ahead of the curve, pushing the limits of what we believe is possible and filling us with hope. The students’ task wasn’t simply to design a new prison, but to help us find a way out of the prison.

The collaboration with Yale continued in fall 2018 when all second-year students in the three-year Masters Program designed a community justice center. Bridgeport, Middletown, and New London, Connecticut are the real-world sites for their designs, captured in the online book Space for Restorative Justice. Their work was informed by local organizations in these communities and by restorative justice experts at Impact Justice and at the Tow Youth Justice Institute at the University of New Haven.

Our work continues and expands in fall 2023 when Impact Justice leads a diverse group of Americans on a journey to Finland to understand how they approach public safety through housing and social support, relying very little on incarceration — lessons that can be applied here in the United States. By restraining their use of prison, they are able to build prison environments that are designed to nurture people’s growth and return home, rather than to punish and exclude them from society.

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