Ms. Van Buren, 47, co-founder of the Oakland, Calif-based nonprofit firm Designing  Justice/Designing Spaces, has committed her architecture practice to the question of ''what a world without prisons could like, the title of her popular TED Talk.

DEANNA Van Buren designs spaces as healing alternatives to prison:

Vicente Martinez, 18, was apprehensive the first time he visited a former drug house in Syracuse, N.Y. The building had been transformed into the Center for Court Innovation's peacemaking program, where issues can bubble up and be resolved outside the traditional criminal justice system.

''I was messing up a lot.,'' Mr. Martinez recalled of his previous stints in jail for driving a stolen vehicle across county lines. ''I was doing dumb kid's stuff.''

The program encourages a nonadversarial approach. Joining Mr. Martinez in chairs arranged in a circle was his father, Robert, who was incarcerated for bank robbery at roughly the same age as his son. He was desperate for Vicente to avoid the same downward trajectory.

For nearly a year, difficult conversations between son, father and other family members took place in a serene setting with sky-blue walls, pine floors, a communal kitchen and lots of natural light.

These touches came out a community design process led by Deanna Van Buren, an architect who has dedicated her career to rethinking the architecture of justice.

''It's a very calming space, so I felt comfortable opening up,'' Vicente observed. ''It's like a base in a baseball game - a safety spot.''

For Robert Martinez, the setting offered an opportunity for his son to stay on the right track by doing well in school and to avoid further run-ins with the law.

Ms. Van Buren's projects include the reimagining of a fortresslike detention center in Atlanta that is closing, as well as a mobile refuge in San Francisco for women who have been released from jail at night. [The refuge was intended to keep the women safe from sex trafficking and other predators.]

The mobile refuge came from ideas generated by about 60 women at the San Francisco County Jail.

Tapping into the voices of vulnerable people helps root Ms. Van Buren's designs in everyday realities. ''I thought they were going to want beds,'' Ms. VanBuren said of the refuge.

''But they wanted recliners, a place to change their clothes and do their hair and get a little food.'' It's a homey place with India print curtains, decorative wood flourishes and stylish upholstery.

Ms. van Buren's path to Designing Justice/Designing Spaces was circuitous : Growing up in a split-level house in a gated white community, she recalls as a young woman feeling ''tribeless.'' not feeling fully at home in either white or black culture.

The Honor and Serving of the Latest Global Operational Research on Prisons, Designs and Future, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Patricia Leigh Brown.


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