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Melinda Gyökös: "Restorative Prison" Projects in Hungary

Uploaded at: 2010. 07. 19.


In Hungary, the paradigm of restoration is closely connected to the objective of crime prevention: the National Strategy for Community Crime Prevention (hereinafter strategy) in 2003 was the first government-levet paper that included the goal to use restorative practices more extensively. The strategy specifies five priorities of community crime prevention'" and defines long-term goals for each. The strategy's goal is to apply the principles of restorative justice primarily for the purpose of reducing juvenile delinquency. preventing re-victimisation, protecting victims and avoiding re-offending.

The paradigm of restoration, crime prevention and restorative prisons

The strategy's philosophy is that effective restorative procedures also have a preventive effect by nature. Restorative justice focuses on the offender, the victim and the community: they are the parties who can work out a settlement to resolve the conflict caused by the crime. During the settlement procedure, the offenders may realise the consequences of their crimes and they also have the opportunity to agree to make amends to the victim (the party injured directly by the crime), and to the community (the party affronted indirectly by the crime, that is, through the violation of law). Ideally, this generates some kind of commitment to the interests and values of society, and this may prevent the criminal from re-offending in the future.

The implementation of the strategy's objectives is coordinated by the National Crime Prevention Board (hereinafter NCPB)." The NCPB is an inter-ministerial body embracing all relevant actors of community crime prevention. In addition to its task of coordinating the govemment's crime prevention efforts, the NCPB also provides financial support (through calls for proposals) to local initiatives that provide practical and appropriate solutions to local problems with the involvement of a wide range of local stakeholders. The programmes supported by the NCPB are pilot projects that may be used extensively.

The NCPB has been issuing calls for proposals each year since 2004. Initially, the programmes were funded directly from the budget. Since 2006, however, the NCPB's only resource has been the so-called "second 1%" of the personal income tax that people can choose to offer in their tax returns for public benefit (in this case, for community crime prevention).

For the prevention of re-offending, the NCPB has been supporting reintegration projects for prison inmates since 2004. The themes of these projects have mostly been skills developrnent and vocational training programmes. Inspired by good practices in the United Kingdom (Stern 2005), the NCPB started to issue calls for proposals in 2006 for restorative activities that contribute to the integration of prisons with the life of local communities and thus support the reintegration of prisoners into society. The model projects developed and implemented with the NCPB's support represent the practice of the "restorative prison" concept in Hungary. These projects attempt to integrate the prison into the local community through the provision of restoration and restitution services to the community.

The general features of restorative/community prisons

The Hungarian "restorative prison" projects has nothing to do with the procedure-oriented restorative practices. Instead, these programmes do not involve the party directly injured by the crime but offer a chance to convicts who show remorse to make amends while they serve their prison term. The inmates make reparations to the local community, which is indirectly affected by the crime (due to the violation of the law), and not to the specific and directly injured party, the victim. This means that instead of providing compensation for the specific injury they caused, the criminals improve the local community's life by producing useful and visible results.

The common qualities of good practices that enable the prison to be a part of the host town's or area's life are presented below.

Vocational training and skills improvement element

Each project involves vocational training and skills improvement programme in some form. The purpose of vocational training is to prepare the prisoners for the work they are to do for the benefit of the community. As a result, the vocational training phase is always the first step in the programme, serving as a foundation for the further programme steps and items. Ideally, the knowledge gained by the prisoners will be useful for them in their life after their release. In the course of planning these restorative prison projects, it is advisable to find services that are needed/undersupplied in the community. This also means that, in an ideal case, there is a demand in the labour market for the given special vocation.

According to the recent practice, the skills improvement element ofthe project is a permanent item that is present throughout the entire project and provides competence and skills that help reintegration after release (for instance, job search, labour market, self-awareness and non-violent conflict resolution skills). Ideally, within the scheme of skills improvement, the opportunity should be taken to make the inmates understand that the service they are to deliver is an active means of accepting responsibility for the crime. conscious about the mentai aspect of the restitution service. However, in Hungary, restorative prison projects so far have very often lacked the effort to make participating inmates conscious about this mentai aspect, namely to improve their ability and willingness to live the experience of repentance and restitution. (Missing this goal might lead to practice when restitution service is considered by the inmates as any other means of killing time.)

Restitution service

A key element of these programmes is an activity that is to the benefit of the community, the so-called "restitution service", carried out with the active involvement of the offenders. All other programme items (vocational training, skills improvement, partnership) are meant to support the implementation of the restitution service. There are two requirements that must be taken into consideration as factors when the "restitution service" is selected.
According to the requirement of usefulness, the service to be provided must be a need, a missing item for the local community. For this reason, the prison must identify the "niche service" for the given town or area's community. The restitution service addressing the need must be easy to communicate: it must be marketable and visible in order to challenge the prejudice the local community may have against prisoners.


Each and every programme includes a communication element in order to establish a human relationship between the prisoners and the various communities of the local population (at joint events, for instance) and to inform as much of the local population as possible of the restitution service's results.


Due to the above mentioned objectives, all programmes have been carried out with a wide range of relevant partners involved. Prisons took a leadership role and in the majority of cases they were able to establish cooperation with local governments, education and training institutions and NGOs active in the area.
Table 9 (see at the end of this article) summarizes the key information related to each specific restorative prison projects carried out with the financial support from the NCPB since 2006 in Hungary. In the following sections, those characteristics of individual projects will be discussed that are good examples of how the principles of restorative prison projects are implemented in Hungary and adapted to local circumstances.

The specific characteristics of the Hungarian "restorative prison" projects

In Hungary, the practice of restorative prison includes wide- ranging and diverse projects. This is partly due to the call-for- proposals system which is flexible enough to accept initiatives with local characteristics but it is also a result of the creativity and innovativeness of project owners who have found appropriate content for "restorative prison" schemes in accordance with local and domestic challenges.

In two projects at the National Penal Institution of Állampuszta (Állampusztai Országos Büntetés-végrehajtasi Intézet) all general elements were successfully implemented within the framework of the town improvement activities in the area of the two settlements, Harta and Solt, that host the prison for the general feabures of the projects see (for the general features of the projects see Table 9). A particularly unigue element in these projects was the way in which prisoners, a significant group of the prison's poputation. In the 2007/2008 project, Roma prisoners had the opportunity to attend specialist training in order to learn a traditional handicraft. Also, they could practice and show their musical talent and practice their traditions.

Another distinctive characteristic of projects at this institution was that the organisers were creative enough to organise joint events and programmes with the local population. In most projects in Hungary, this programme element was missed out in spite ofthe fact that this is of key importance in the original British versions ofthe projects. The choir and the theatre company of the inmates performed at various events organised by the local communities and institutions in Harta and Solt.

The Balassagyarmat Penitentiary and Prison (Balassagyarmati Fegyház es Börtön) successfully implemented the general elements of the concept Isee Table 9\ in both in its projects. The projects were aimed at cleaning and reconstructing various neglected public spaces to allow the local population to start using these areas again. The results exceeded expectations in both cases. As early as after the first project, the prison and the local government signed a cooperation agreement to allow the inmates to participate in further úrban planning activities. As a result of the first project, efforts were made to facilitate the inmates' "self-help" activities: the self-awareness and conflict resolution group continued to operate after the end of the project but the majority of the participants were new. However, a number of "group veterans" agreed to attend the new phase of the meetings to help the new members become accustomed to the group. By the time the second project was being implemented, the prison had become a significant player in the local community. It had become a factorin organising the community as itactivated a number of non-governmental groups and involved both the local population and the students of the elementary school near "Paloc-liget" (the park that was reconstructed) in the reconstruction work. Active cooperation developed between the elementary school and the prison. Teachers confirmed that the behaviour of evening class students of the elementary school noticeably improved after their visit to the prison and their discussions with some of the inmates. The pupils ofthe school who were trained as peer-helpers will make efforts in the future to prevent their schoolmates from damaging the park or from using it improperly while the classes of the school will each "adopt" a part of the park and will take responsibility formaintaining the good condition of that part.

The Sátoraljaújhely Penitentiary and Prison (Sátoraljaújhelyi Fegyház es Börtön) implemented the general elements of the concept (see Table 9), in its two projects with specific objectives: the establishment of a prison museum and the reconstruction of "Hősök temetője" [Heroes'cemetery], a cemetery of historical significance. The projects therefore aimed at meeting the local population's demand for preserving and popularising cultural, scientific and local history-related values. The second project has some special features that are not expected to work in Hungary in spite of the fact that they are implemented in the original British projects. For instance, the project involved inmates who were also local citizens, that is, they were expected to go on with their lives in the area of Sátoraljaújhely after release. Therefore their restitution services were provided to the community they were to reintegrate into following their release. Another element of the project rarely implemented in Hungary (due to the short term of financing and lack of methodology) was follow- up evaluation. The project inmates are given follow-up care with the assistance of the probation service for a period of two years after their release, which is a tool of evaluation at the same time.

A project at the Heves County Penal Institution (Heves Megyei Büntetés-végrehajtási Intézet) included general elements combined with town improvement objectives (see Table 9 for details) but it also had a special characteristic: activities were organised that allowed the participation of both male and female prisoners inside and outside the prison. While the female inmates worked in public spaces of the town in a manner visible and recognisable to the public, the male prisoners repaired, within the prison, the mobile parts and equipment of the playground the local government had selected to be reconstructed in the project.


On the basis of three years of restorative/community prison projects we can conclude that it is definitely a step forward that the penal institutions receiving support under the scheme now implement the philosophy of restorative justice much more consciously. They follow the projects of other prisons and they discuss their ideas and problems with each other when they plan their new projects.

It is also a positive development that a number of symbolic restorative projects have been implemented in the past two years without the support of the NICPB at the local governments" or the prisons' own initiative.

Regardless of the fact that the first project had ended and the financing period had expired (in 2007), the Sátoraljaújhely local government decided to contract the penal institution to seciire the publicwork of inmates for town improvement purposes. In Eger, female inmates of the Heves County Prison Carried out restitution work in public spaces as early as in 2007, that is, before its first supported projects were launched (in 2008). In 2008, the female inmates ofthe Pálhalma Prison performed a puppet show they had practiced at their puppetry club to sick and disabled children. In addition, another group of female inmates carried out public space reconstruction work at the local cemetery. In 2009, the inmates of the Győr-Moson-Sopron County Penal Institution performed restorative work at the local zoo, at the playground of a local kindergarten and in the building of a foundation that takes care of children with birth disorders.
However, the lack of resources and capacity is arecurring problem as it can significantly limit the opportunities of the institutions to run such programmes. The "territorial scope" of the programmes is also strikingly limited. It is the same 8-10 penal institutions that apply good practices year in and year out in spite of the fact that the programmes could be easily adapted by other prisons also.
It is still a challenge to spread good practices at a national level, to provide intensive personal care for the inmates participating in the projects (to help them experience the restitution they carried out) and to establish a balanced relationship between the institution and the local community.

In conclusion, it can be said that the implementation of the restorative prison concept is progressing slowly but surely, but there are still a lot of opportunities to exploit. It is quite simple to recognise that the application of restorative justice principles - with its potentially useful objectives - is common sense. The rationale is that the offenders will not evade punishment, but while they serve their terms, they will also carry out an activity that can be valuable for the local community, which is also injured by the crime committed. The supply is therefore provided by the inmates ready to showtheir remorse by providing services, and the demand is provided by the community's various needs (for instance, public spaces needing development).

The penal institution may also be motivated to establish a link between the demand and the supply as there is evidence that tension can be relieved if appropriate activities are organised for the inmates. It is a significant factor that programmes that are both successful and well-communicated may change the popular misconception that inmates'have a better quality of life than many of tax-paying citizens.

This common sense-based approach of the restorative prison concept may be the factor that can persuade penal institutions and local governments to become more active in organising restitution services even in these days when there is a lack of staff and resources. It has been proven in this article that the necessary know-how is available. All we need now is the more extensive application of these restorative methods.

General features of the Hungarian restorative prison projects carried out with financial support from the NCPB
Project name (location of the institution):"Complex model programmes for the implementation of restorative justice principles" (National Penal Institution of Állampuszta)
Period: 2006/2007
Cooperating partners: Harta Local government Office of Justice, Bács-Kiskun County Specialist training: Park caretaker training
Skills development: Presentations by NGOs on the protection of the environment and Local historical values
Restitution service: Landscaping and reconstruction; Removing Litter; Reconstructing the old cemetery
Communication: A publication on the institution, a film on the project implementation News and reports for the media on the progress of the project
Project name (location of the institution):"Integrating the prison with the life of the local community" (National Penal Institution of Állampuszta)
Period: 2007/2008
Cooperating partners: Solt local government Harta local government Office of Justice, Bács-Kiskun County
Specialist training: A course on growing and weaving willow;
Skills development: Music and cultural programmes; Roma ethnic music and dance course
Restitution service: Town improvement and maintenance work; Reconstruction of a local archaeological artefact (a boat)
Communication: A documentary film on the project; News and reports for the media on the progress of the project
Project name (location of the institution):"Give me a chance to make ít right" (Balassagyarmat Penitentiary and Prison)
Period: 2007/2008
Cooperating partners: Balassagyarmat Local government; Office of Justice; Nógrád County Társadalmi Visszailleszkedést Segítő Egyesület (Association for Social Reintegration) Magyar Iparszövetseg Oktatási es Szolgáltató Központ (Hungarian Industrial Association Education and Service Centre)
Specialist training : Park caretaker training
Skills development: Self-awareness and conflict resolution training; Labour market skills, job search training
Restitution service: Cleaning and Landscaping around the new coach terminal; Repairing damaged public structures; Reconstructing the military cemetery;
Communication: Official ceremony of opening the park; News and reports for the media on the progress of the project
Project name (location of the institution): "Joint effort for protecting the natural environment atthe Paloc-liget"  (Balassagyarmat Penitentiary and Prison)
Period: 2008/2009
Cooperating partners: Balassagyarmat Local government; Police Station; Balassagyarmat Társadalmi Visszailleszkedést Segítő Egyesület (Association for Social Reintegration); Kiss Árpád Elementary School; Polgarőr Egyesület (Civilian Police Association), Balassagyarmat
Specialist training: Park caretaker practice scheme
Skills developrnent: Museum visit; Work with students and local citizens
Restitution service: Palóc-Liget reconstruction; Weed removal; Rebuilding trails, steps, removing obstacles; Repairing public benches
Communication: Flyers about Palóc-liget; Citizens' forum for the citizens living in the neighbourhood for the purpose of identifying problems and for raising a sense of responsibility; Establishing a peer helper group; A documentary film on the project;
Official ceremony for opening the reconstructed park; News and reports for the media on the progress of the project

Project name (location of the institution): "Learn from your past - this is not your destiny" (Sátoraljaújhely Penitentiary and Prison)
Period: 2006/2007
Cooperating partners: Sátoraljaújhely Local government; HM Hadtörténeti Intézet es Múzeum (Ministry of Defence Military History Institute and Museum); Eötvös József Club
Specialist training: Practice scheme for those prisoners that have attended computer training over the past few years
Skills development: Improving cooperation skills through work with civilian employees
Restitution service: Establishing a prison museum; Construction; IT tasks: Digitalsing and editing; Museology-related and other tasks
Communication: News and reports for the media on the progress of the project; Welcoming visitors to the museum (operating the museum)

Project name (location of the institution):"Heroes'cemetery: crime prevention and the building of a valuable community" (Sátoraljaújhely Penitentiary and Prison)
Period 2008/2009
Cooperating partners: Sátoraljaújhely Local government, Zempléni Hadtörténeti Egyesület (Z emplen military History Club); Sátoraljaújhelyi Városvédő és Szépítő Egyesület (SátoraljaújhelyTown Embellishment and Protection Association); Zemplén Térsegi Katasztrófa es Polgári Védelmi Szövetség (Zemplén Disaster Preparedness and Civil Protection Association); Eötvös József Club
Specialist training: Park caretaker training
Skills development: Improving cooperation skills with the help of citizens and teachers
Restitution service: "Cemetery of Heroes" reconstruction, Reconstruction; Weed removal; Repairing fallen/broken tombs; Replacing the ornamental plants
Communication: Providing information on the cemetery's significance in Local history and on the reconstruction efforts of the prisoners (temporary exhibition at the prison museum); A documentary film on the project, Opening ceremony;News and reports for the media on the progress of the project
Project name (location of the institution): "Reintegration and a new chance" (Heves County Penal Institution)  
Period: 2008/2009
Cooperating partners: Secondary School of Agriculture, Commerce and Catering; Városgondozas Eger Kft. (Town Maintenance Ltd.); RÉV Szenvedélybeteg-segítő Szolgálat (RÉV Addict Helper Service); TV Eger
Specialist training: Park caretaker training
Skills development: Self-awareness and conflict resolution groups
Restitution service: Landscaping and flower planting; Removing waste and snow ploughing; Reconstructing four playgrounds
Communication: A publication and a documentary film on the project; News and reports for the media on the progress of the project

Source: "European Best Practices of Restorative Justice in the Criminal Procedure" Conference Publication, based on the conference named "European Best Practices of Restorative Justice in the Criminal Procedure".

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