ReForm

2017: Transition Design, Research, Illustration, Brand Styling

Reform sets the stage for participants to take on the role of prison stakeholders as a means of re-conceptualizing prison environments. This activity uncovers the challenges of working through conflicting interests between stakeholders and helps participants learn about the relationships that grow out of planning the physical environment. In shaping the activity, we have considered the implications prison structures have on prison culture, recidivism, and rehabilitation. Taking on a topic that is not often talked about enough, we aimed for participants to conceive of alternative futures based on negotiated stakeholder needs. Working with teammates Sharon Yu, Max Plummer, and Gilly Johnson, Reform was the result of a semester study on how the applications of the principles of transition design could impact problems in the Pittsburgh region.

 
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Introducing the Activity 

“It’s 2025 and a donor has allocated funds for a new Allegheny County Jail. Before moving forward with design plans, at the request of the donor, local officials have brought together different prison stakeholders in a rare opportunity for everyone to advocate for their needs. As a participant in this meeting, your collective task is to finalize the design plan for this new prison layout.”

ReForm is designed based on the hypothesis that prison layouts will affect relationships within prison communities, recidivism, and growth-oriented experiences for inmates. To build this activity, we chose characters and places that would challenge the participant to think outside of the box. The characters in this activity are a collection of stakeholders who are directly or indirectly affected by the incarceration system. Through varying the levels of involvement of each character with the prison system on a daily basis, we sought to create specific tensions that arise in real life. In facilitating this activity, we created an equal playing field for all stakeholders, regardless of their affiliation and status in relation to the prison, to advocate for their needs in the prison space.

Playtest

Reform sets the stage for participants to take on the role of prison stakeholders as a means of re-conceptualizing prison environments. This activity uncovers the challenges of working through conflicting interests between stakeholders and helps participants learn about the relationships that grow out of planning the physical environment.

 

research Overview

Character Cards: We decided to have two inmates with different prison statements act as separate characters in the activity because we felt it was necessary to show their unique and sometimes conflicting ideologies. We also created a character for the warden and the correction officer in anticipation of alliances that may be formed throughout the activity. The civilian, the victim, and the inmate’s family all have different stakes and values when it comes to the effort of rehabilitation and deterrence within prison activities. Overall, whichever of the seven characters are drawn in any individual gameplay will affect the ultimate layout: a prison conceived by a warden, corrections officer, taxpayer, and victim will look different from a prison conceived by a long term inmate, first time offender, and inmate family.

Locations: Recognizing that theories of punishment and criminality influence the environment and architecture of prisons, we derived the spaces in this activity through research about various prisons from different cultures around the world. We also considered theories of deterrence, rehabilitation, and restorative justice; a wide variety of ideologies are represented as possibilities during the gameplay. Some of the spaces included more experimental approaches inspired by European prison models including animal therapy, digital classroom, meditation room, and community gardens. We also included spaces from more traditional deterrence based models including solitary confinement, suicide watch, and maximum security. Taking inspiration from studies that have shown where inmates who have access to certain educational, therapeutic, and more open environments have a lower chances of recidivism once they leave prison, we also included many spaces for activity and wellness such as substance abuse treatment center, therapy rooms, and meditation rooms. 

 

The final Gameboard and character cards

Process

Reform came together as a project resulting from testing the hypothesis of the benefits of adult education in prison settings. As we researched further, we realized that what we were aiming to do in reducing recidivism was rooted in the kinds of opportunities and spaces available within the prison structure rather than just a focus on adult education. We wanted to move the dialogue away from how inmates often return to prison within three years and push it towards a longer term goal. Americans are effected by the prison system daily: 1 in 110 adults are currently in prison, another 1 in 51 adults are on probation,  and over 2.7 million children growing up in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison. How can we talk about longer term investments into prisons? Future casting required us to look at alternate mindsets where we don’t see prisons as a place of just punishment that is mentally distant from our daily lives. ReForm aims to bring the often opposing needs of everyone involved to make the problem space more salient and challenge the current norms of the American prison system.