The rate of incarceration for women has grown more than 600% in the past three decades. Many of these incarcerated women have lives characterized by little education and employment as well as physical and sexual victimization, mental illness, substance abuse, and depression. Despite programs aimed at targeting women's health and wellness in its many forms, women are confined in an environment characterized by dehumanization, violence, isolation, and a loss of autonomy, all of which negatively impact their well-being. The restorative justice philosophy may offer a framework through which to re-consider the design of correctional environments that facilitates improved well-being. This study takes a first step toward exploring the notion of “restorative space,” space for which the design has been informed by restorative justice. This study inquires about privacy, a related concept that involves the creation of safe and reflective physical and psychological space aimed at wellness, in the lives of women, inside and outside jail.
This study utilized ethnographic methods inside a women's jail in a large northeastern city and included fieldwork on two cellblocks and interviews with 22 incarcerated women, five women upon release, and 10 jail staff. Art-based interview methods served as a means through which women could explore environmental features associated with privacy in jail and in an ideal form.
Results indicate that, despite many barriers, incarcerated individuals do manage to achieve privacy to cope with various aspects of institutional life. Beyond this, however, privacy facilitates other forms of well-being. For the study participants, it contributed to their release of emotions and reflection on their lives. When visualizing privacy outside of jail, it contributed to experiences of peacefulness, affirmation, focus and motivation, and success. When these findings are understood in light of the natural and house-like features participants created in their scenes of ideal privacy, they suggest that women seek psychological and relational spaces in which they thrive and environments designed to support this aim. The findings are discussed in light of the original concern for restorative justice.