At DJDS, we are building pilot projects that are essential to move us toward a world without prisons and jails. As an interdisciplinary creative firm, we combine expertise in architecture, real estate development, community engagement, and advocacy to develop prototype projects that will serve as models for building typologies that support the transformation of our communities and the transformation of our justice system from punitive to restorative. As an initial step, we use this robust combination of expertise and services to support our partners in an approach we call the Concept Development Process. The result of the Concept Development Process is a package containing engagement and feasibility analyses, aesthetic designs, proposed programming, and financial modeling to move the project into Pre-Development. The technical expertise we use to accomplish our work is described below.
We provide trauma-informed architectural design, using customized community engagement processes for community-responsive development.
We serve as Design Architect and remain involved in the process through occupancy. We collaborate with local contractors, landscape architects, engineers, and architects of record, as well as any other relevant technical support, from the beginning of the process. DJDS also leads Whole Community Planning (commonly referred to as master planning) around each of our project sites.
We envision, coordinate, and realize impactful projects, and we provide advice and strategy in the areas of business modeling and capital fundraising. We provide consulting services to mission-aligned organizations on topics such as real estate development, community engagement, and process planning.
We also develop our own projects—from concept to site control and refinancing—and in these cases we serve as Owner, Real Estate Developer, and designer. Beyond the projects we own, we can also serve as Co-Developer and Partner.
We advocate for—and educate about—mass decarceration. We use design, architecture, and real estate development to build the infrastructure for an alternative justice system rooted in restoration, healing, and thriving.
We push for designers, architects, and developers to become involved early on in policy reform in order for place and environment to be included in policy change and budget allocation. We can provide thought leadership to policymakers and organizers around the intersections of mass incarceration, public health, public safety, and the environment. We write, speak, and participate in governance in efforts to abolish our current punitive justice system.
At DJDS we are committed to the relationships that underpin every project. Through our rigorous partnership and project selection process we build relationships to anchor our solutionary and emergent processes. We primarily serve heroes and sheroes and survivors of the criminal justice system who provide services; community builders leading the movements for systems change; and public servants and civic leaders committed to the long road of prison abolition.
There is currently little to no funding supporting innovation to create new and urgent prototypes for our built environment. And lack of access to capital—especially for Black and brown people—is typically the primary obstacle when it comes to developing new building types that respond to calls for systemic changes to advance racial equity, needs articulated by communities, and/or the radical reimagining of social systems.
Through long-term and impactful relationships with private funders, we address this challenge by leveraging philanthropic dollars through our Concept Development Fund. The Fund enables us to catalyze, pollinate, and accelerate prototype projects—both our own projects and those of our partners. We do this through the Concept Development Process, which is the funnel every project moves through to become ready for the pre-development stage of the design and construction process.
The support given to the Concept Development Fund also grants us the flexibility to do our work and accomplish our mission while counteracting a historical context in a country that favors a punitive justice system that is directly tied to the legacy of slavery. DJDS works hard to make sure that we are applying equitable development and implementation strategies, such as making sure systems-impacted individuals have a voice in leading our work, integrating trauma-informed practices throughout the design and development phases, and co-learning with the community throughout the project. This means that our processes are time-intensive and require investment of staffing and resources beyond the typical boilerplate of design and real estate development.
In the development of the concept, DJDS engages its clients and their stakeholders in activities to identify and evaluate a project for development. These activities may include a pre-qualification evaluation to identify “fund-ready” program partners, an engagement process with a community and/or staff to assess needs, a site identification journey, a full financial analysis of the organization, and/or training to use remote learning tools and help program partners identify development sites.
DJDS receives inquiries from non-profits, community organizations, and government entities who have inspiring ideas or spatial needs that are ready for the Concept Development Process. In many cases, though, they lack the financial means or knowledge to move the project forward without support, so while the project may be critical to addressing the needs of those most impacted by mass incarceration and poverty, the process stalls and an opportunity for positive change is missed. The Concept Development Fund is designed to address this challenge by financially supporting this first essential phase of development needed to make these visions a reality.