Document Type


Publication Date


Journal Title

New Mexico Law Review




This Article offers a model for addressing current inequities in U.S. municipal criminal regulation through design justice theory. Historically, municipal courts in the United States have been the arbiter of minor crimes, processing traffic tickets and other low-level criminal charges. They have also served to uphold Black Codes, segregation, anti-protest laws, and “broken windows” criminal regulation. Enhancing equality in municipal courts requires meaningful participation from across the city’s populace. Participatory design- a framework within urban planning, architecture and design fields- is a practice with honed protocols for implementing meaningful participation from “users” of a place or product. The goal of participatory design is to seek out and implement guidance from the people most affected. Design justice, a modern refinement of participatory design, prioritizes perspectives marginalized in local planning and decision-making. Municipal courts have had a disproportionate and deep impact on the advancement of minorities and poor people. This Article proposes that municipalities implement design justice processes in municipal criminal regulation.

In this piece, I analogize the use of design justice in contemplating Confederate monuments and other public sites of exclusion to the redesign of municipal criminal regulation. Design justice has emerged as a practice centered on the re-envisioning sites of exclusion and recognizing the invisible power hierarchies that undergird public uses of space. I emphasize that participatory design, and design justice in particular, provides critical tools for meaningful change in municipal criminal regulation. Applying design justice to the reform of local criminal regulation involves three precepts: grappling with the historic role of municipal courts, creating tools for public participation, and articulating clear and shared understandings of the spatial impacts of municipal criminal regulation.

Critical uses of design justice allows municipalities to subvert traditional roles of insider and outsider, disenfranchised, and expert in criminal regulation. Ultimately, design justice offers a path towards a broader understanding of court experiences and is adaptable to the work of deconstructing criminal municipal regulation and rebuilding more equitable laws.

First Page


Last Page


Num Pages


Volume Number


Issue Number



University of New Mexico School of Law

File Type




To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.