Letter from the Academy of Architecture for Justice Leadership Group
Dear AAJ and community members,
Over the course of the past year we have seen an awakening in our country and around the world regarding social justice and racial inequality that has prompted a spirited public dialogue about our justice system and the responsibility of architects engaged in the planning and design of justice facilities. Recent statements from AIA New York, ADPSR, and individual firms and architects have brought to light important ethical considerations that are essential to the work of our Knowledge Community. As architects committed to the advancement of fair, just, and healthy societies, this has been a time to reflect on our own contributions to the discourse and how we can more effectively advocate for real change.
For nearly five decades, the Academy of Architecture for Justice has worked to improve the fairness and effectiveness of our justice system through architecture and design, and we believe AIA members will continue to be essential partners in the effort to influence decision-makers as the justice system evolves to reflect our acknowledgment of systemic imbalances and biases.Through research efforts, annual conferences, and engagement with universities and partner organizations we have been challenging the status quo in efforts to address the gaps and inadequacies of the criminal justice system. We continue to break down barriers and actively engage with community advocates, victims, and those who have been deprived of their liberty to ensure that all stakeholders are not only heard but empowered to influence our work.
The Academy of Architecture for Justice remains committed to:
- Reforms that promote the essential principles of fairness and equality before the law, and how planning and architecture can mitigate the effects of bias for people interacting with the justice system;
- Continued engagement with stakeholders from every level of government to develop solutions that focus on the underlying issues impacting over-incarceration, including racism, lack of access to education, employment, and health care, while striving to ensure the physical needs, health, dignity, and human potential of all who encounter the justice system are respected and given the opportunity to flourish;
- Cultivating meaningful conversations with members of the communities in which we live and work to address root causes of crime and biases toward those incarcerated, as well as advocating for healthy, equitable communities where people can live in safety, with dignity, and access to opportunity;
- Advising on best practices, evidence-based design principles, and monitoring their effectiveness, utilizing the resources of AAJ, other AIA Knowledge Communities and partner organizations.
Our committees, which include Sustainable Justice, Research, Communications, Justice Partners, Next Gen (Emerging Professionals), University Outreach, Justice Facilities Review and Conference Planning, are currently engaged in several initiatives that seek to address racial injustice. Their work will continue to evolve and adapt to ensure our membership is enlightened and empowered to engage their clients and seek progressive solutions. In addition to our committee work, AAJ supports government advocacy positions for the AIA.
The Sustainable Justice Committee is currently updating the Green Guide to Justice, originally published in 2010. The updated Green Guide, which will be released later this year, includes an expanded focus on underlying racial and socioeconomic issues in our communities and how architects can respond in their work. Past engagements included a Restorative Justice Visioning Event in Miami in 2015 that brought together community leaders and justice stakeholders to re-image the future of a comprehensive justice center.
The Research Committee’s efforts have resulted in numerous workshops and white papers including research with neuroscientists and environmental psychologists regarding the physiological and psychological impacts of correctional environments on incarcerated individuals. A Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) Tool Kit was developed and will be available for implementation in the coming months. We are currently partnering with the National Center for State Courts to discuss a post-pandemic vision for the courts.
The AAJ hosts an annual conference each Fall. Since 2014, our conferences have focused on social justice topics. We strive to engage a diverse range of perspectives including from those that develop justice policy, manage facilities, operate on the frontlines in our communities and those with lived experience in the justice system.
We understand that the conversations and images circulating in our news feeds are complicated and rightfully provoke deeply emotional responses. As such, we believe that engagement and discourse are essential to our collective understanding of the issues and the development of positive, meaningful responses. As a community, we will continue to seek direct engagement with our stakeholders. We believe that because of this engagement significant progress has been made to ensure that justice facilities are operated ethically and with a focus on diversion, rehabilitation, healing, and treatment. As we look forward to our annual conference later this month, we ask you to consider the following and join us in discussion:
- How do we ensure that those individuals in our society that have been deprived of their liberty have access to the resources they need to allow for a successful transition and re-integration into their communities?
- How do we reduce the population in the criminal justice system and ensure racial disparities that have been evident for centuries are eradicated?
- How can justice facilities be reimagined to support the essential social needs of the community, including housing, employment, education, and health care, and ensure these needs are met equally for all members of society?
We are committed to collaborating in support of building a better tomorrow by uniting, listening, discussing, and respectfully sharing our experiences. AAJ asks that you consider the efforts that have been made in effecting change in our justice system over the past few decades. Let us join together to continue to drive change in a positive way that does not turn our backs to those touched by the criminal justice system. Please join us for our virtual conference, Resilient Justice: Design for Purpose, Power and Potential, this October 27 – 30, 2020, where we will seek answers to these difficult questions by uniting as a community to listen, to learn, and to imagine a more humane and sustainable justice system.
The Academy of Architecture for Justice Leadership Group
Gregory Cook, AIA, Chair
Melissa Farling, FAIA
Julian Jaffary, Int’l Assoc. AIA
Kristine Bishop Johnson, AIA
Erica Loynd, AIA
Marayca Lopez, Incoming 2021 LG Member