The United States has the largest prison population in the world and the highest per capita rate of incarceration. The punitive justice that lands people behind bars often hits communities of color and poverty much harder than other groups. In Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the nation, social justice groups are banding together to fight this “prison-industrial” complex and rising rents with the collective purchase and renovation of space dedicated to restorative justice and community building.
The space is Restore Oakland, a 15,000 square foot, two-story building shared by a half-dozen local organizations involved in social justice-oriented work across the Bay Area. Starting out as a partnership between the Ella Baker Center and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, or ROC United, the location will cater to a diverse set of social justice organizations who share common values and are all working to combat mass incarceration. “Restore Oakland is really our attempt to try to make a stance against gentrification,” says Zachary Norris, executive director at the Ella Baker Center.
Several years ago, the Ella Baker Center commissioned a study, called Who Pays?, asking past offenders, their loved ones, and survivors of crime about the kind of vision they believe was necessary for community safety. People overwhelmingly said, ‘We need restorative justice, and we need economic opportunity,’” Norris says. “We heard that, and we really wanted to create a space that kind of embodied that in building, and that’s what Restore Oakland is all about.”
One of the unique aspects of the Restore Oakland project will be the way that space is designed, creating spaces where those who have caused harm and the people who were harmed by them can resolve their issues and begin the healing process while being surrounded by their community.
This story was one of the best from 2019, and we are happy to include it in our “12 Days of Optimism” as we get ready to welcome 2020!