Deanna Van Buren, an architect, artist and activist, recently delivered a talk on prisons for TED, in which she considers what a world without them would look like.
She starts by telling her audience about one of her first creations, a tent she built when she was 5 years old that she dubbed the Healing Hut. She says she built the space for herself when she was sent home from school for punching another child after he called her a racial slur. By creating spaces like this, she was able to feel at peace when she felt like the world was against her, and it helped her get through some of the difficulties she experienced while growing up.
She continues by considering the benefits of restorative justice, and shows that facilities that are made to repair rather an punish prevent repeat offenders, and tackle the issue at the root rather than creating more of them. In order to make a positive impact on at-risk teens, Van Buren started in schools, transforming empty rooms into healing centers, where kids could come and share their struggles and connect with others.
When looking to build a restorative justice center, Van Buren decided to ask prisoners what they'd like to see, and found that they were eager to express their creative ideas and help others learn and recover. After taking the time to learn from others who were taking steps to help those systematically discriminated against, and who have dealt with extreme poverty and abuse, Van Buren expanded her planning to incorporate more new ideas.
In the end, she designed a building that included a restaurant that employs low-wage workers weather or not they have criminal records, a space that hosts activist organizations, and a dedicated center for restorative justice. She plans to replicate the project in a number of other American cities, and to replace as many prisons as she can with restorative justice centers.
In addition to helping communities in need, replacing prisons with these buildings saves on costs as well, with one prison costing the equivalent of 30 restorative justice centers. With her talk on prisons, she highlights the need to build resources that help people, and shows the amazing impact that these buildings and programs can have.