Interviewer: Greg Labrosse
Language of interview: English
Country of practice: United States
Profession: Associate Professor of Social Work and Criminal Justice
Barb Toews is a sociologist and Associate Professor of Social Work and Criminal Justice at the University of Washington at Tacoma. She is on the board of directors at Designing Justice + Designing Spaces, and has extensive experience in restorative justice practices and prisoner advocacy in diverse places across the United States. According to Toews, her work is firmly centred in restorative practices, but has recently moved in the direction of transformational justice, working towards, abolition, dismantling racial oppression and mass incarceration.
During our conversation, Toews describes how her work began having a spatial focus around 2000, when she worked in prisoner advocacy, which resulted in working towards the design of restorative justice spaces. She started looking at the relation of architecture and justice spaces, and decided to focus her doctoral research on spatial questions around these matters. According to Toews, she has increasingly thought about focusing spaces of restorative justice on the concept of accountability, and the design of more human spaces that are survivor-oriented. Currently, she is interested in building restorative justice infrastructure with communities, which includes the exploration of the role of food and objects of comfort (blankets), in creating welcoming spaces for people who have experienced trauma.
Lastly, Toews describes the lack of political will to address systemic racism and the root of inequality, and how the carceral system in the United States is intimately linked to slavery and the marginalisation of people of colour. She encourages people to use their agency to change spaces themselves, to make them more human. She then recommends that people who are starting to work in the field of restorative justice should ask themselves the following question: “what kind of space would I like to be in when I need to have a difficult conversation with someone?”