Some of us have long urged courthouses be designed physically with a view to access to justice. We might find some inspiration from a recent video feature on Politico, on the “Post-Ferguson Police Station,” I would suggest watching the video starting at 5 min 20 secs, for the visuals that show the ideas.
For a courthouse, the core ideas would be design the spaces and human flow to encourage access to the information that would enable people to assert their rights, to connect them with people who can help them, to reassure that they would not be treated as the cashbox, and to ensure that staff were kept cognizant of the human consequences of their actions.
Here is a crazy idea, that at least gets one thinking about the implications of design, set the staff and judicial entryways so they walk past the cells, reminding them that incarceration decisions are not about theory but about humanity. (I’d want to test the consequences, it might do more harm than good.) You’d need to find a way to explain to those held that they were not being exhibited as objects — maybe it would be safer to just put big photos on the entry hall of the insides of prisons.
What I would really like to see is an architecturalal design competition for an access-friendly courthouse. We surely spend billions a year on building courthouses, so this would be very appealing to architects. (See., e.g. Greenfield Massachusetts Trial Court, Project Cost$60 million; Boston Federal Court, $170 million, completed 1999).
Once build, those courts can end up structurng the patterns of interaction for a century or so. Lets get them right.