Photo: Designing Justice & Designing Spaces
Photo: Designing Justice & Designing Spaces

Atlanta Jail Will Be Transformed into a Center for Equity


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Architect Deanna Van Buren is working on a new design project to turn Atlanta City Detention Center into a new center for equity. It will include mental health services, reentry programs, a credit union, urban farming housing, classrooms where students can work towards their GED, and other community spaces. 

Van Buren is the co-founder of the non-profit designing firm Designing Justice & Designing Spaces, and has been pushing the idea for years that communities should divest money from the criminal justice system and invest it into completely new systems of justice. 

Activists have been trying to get the jail shut down for years. 

The jail’s usage has been decreasing since a contract with ICE ended, the penalty for possession of marijuana was reduced and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms ended cash bail. 

Van Buren began working on the design project in 2019, after Mayor Bottoms signed legislation to close the jail. She worked with the city for six months meeting with community groups, from formerly incarcerated individuals to small businesses, to figure out how the space could best be used. 

In a task force report, community members wrote that people need services, not jail cells and that true safety will come from making sure the city is equitable for all, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. 

“People do not steal food from the grocery store because they love committing crimes, they steal because they are hungry. It is in everyone’s interest to allow all people to have economic opportunity,” she said.

Mayor Bottoms has proposed a $400 million bond to work on repurposing the center. Van Buren is excited to see that things are starting to head in a different direction and that money is being spent in ways that are leading to restorative justice and healing. 

“You’re starting to see political will. You can see it all over the country.”


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