Criminal Justice 2008

What is restorative justice?

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MEREPS Workshops at the European Forum’s 6th Biennial Conference in Bilbao (17-19 June 2010)

Uploaded at: 2010. 08. 02.


The European Forum for Restorative Justice (one of the partners in the MEREPS Consortium) held its sixth biennial conference from the 17th to 19th of June 2010, in Bilbao, Spain. This biennial conference also marked the 10th anniversary of the forum.

The MEREPS Project was also invited to the Conference to hold its international seminar. The two workshops held by project representatives signaled the first personal introduction of the project towards a professional audience.

The roughly 100 people who attended the workshops represented more than 20 countries. They could hear presentations from the MEREPS project staff members, as well as guest-presentations held by Els Gossens, a mediation expert from Belgium, Vidia Negrea, a conference facilitator from Hungary and Jo OMahoney with Steve Tong, researchers from the UK.

Notes of each workshop were taken by Radoslava Karabasheva (Workshop 1) and Frank Hengeveld (Workshop 2). These can be downloaded by clicking on the names of the workshops..
The abstracts of the presentations can be read later on this article, with links to the full papers provided for each at the end of the abstract.

The workshops were highly interactive with lots of feedback, questions, answers, and a fully involved audience. This confirmed for the representatives of the MEREPS project that this kind of research and experimental work is indeed very much needed in order to gain a better insight into applicability of RJ in prisons.

The Conference covered three main themes:

1) The work of the practitioners (mediators and facilitators)
Restorative justice in different countries

At the heart of restorative justice is a dialogue between the victim and the offender, the main stakeholders, with support from a mediator or facilitator. The stakeholders are frequently anxious about what lies ahead, often not knowing what to expect or how they may feel when they meet each other. The mediator/facilitator is the one building trust, facilitating communication and helping to move the process forward towards an acceptable outcome: an agreement, reparation and sometimes - reconciliation.

There were a series of workshops, with emphasis on the work of the practitioners, presenting and ’visualising’ how the process looks in the different countries. This wias done mainly through reenacting actual examples of restorative justice processes, discussing and comparing practices from different countries. The comparison enabled more detailed analysis and discussions of potentials and limitations of organisational and methodological approaches.

2) Cooperation with legal practitioners

A way to increase the involvement of judges, prosecutors and police
From the beginning, the closest cooperating partners for restorative justice practitioners have been professionals within criminal justice and legal agencies. This cooperation is necessary in implementing and developing restorative justice. Restorative justice practitioners and legal practitioners need to support themselves and each other to increase the use of restorative justice in Europe. One of the aims of the conference was to provide an opportunity for professionals from the different criminal justice and legal agencies to discuss from their own perspective the benefits of restorative justice.

3) Conferencing – A way forward for restorative justice in Europe

A model of restorative justice called ’conferencing’ is emerging in Europe. This has already been developed quite extensively in other parts of the world such as New Zealand, Australia or the USA. Conferencing may include, besides the offender, the victim and the facilitator, also members of their families and/or friends, and other members of the local community such as the social services, lawyers and the police. The stakeholders attending speak about how crime has affected their lives and contribute to an acceptable solution for the victim, the offender and the community.
The preliminary results of a project on conferencing run by the European Forum for Restorative Justice and funded by the European Commission were presented at the Conference. The project focuses on how conferencing practices could be developed further in Europe. The Conference presentation included an overview of conferencing practices in the world and the possible challenges of its implementation within a continental European legal and socio-cultural context. This provided a basis for discussion on innovative restorative justice practices.

The official gallery of the conference can be found here.
Other pictures of the conference can be found here.

The following presentations were held in the MEREPS Project’s workshops:

Applying mediation and RJ in the prison settings: overview of the MEREPS project by Borbala Fellegi (Hungary)

Mediation and Restorative Justice in the Prison Settings (MEREPS is an international project between 2009 and 2012 funded by the European Commission‘s Criminal Justice Programme. The Consortium in partnership with the European Forum for RJ involves partner organisations from the UK, Germany and led by Hungarian Foresee Research Group together with the Hungarian National Institute of Criminology.
The project involves researchers, practitioners, criminal justice professionals and policy makers from the countries involved, enabling them to participate in an interdisciplinary, intersectoral and international collaborative process. The project combines theoretical (desk research) and action research (conducting and evaluating a pilot project as „action research”, including training seminars) elements, together with fieldwork (interview-based survey).
This presentation, on the one hand, provided an overview of the project‘s main objectives, structure, activities and results so far. On the other hand, it created the basis for a fruitful discussion between the other presenters and participants to discuss the main practical and methodological issues concerning the applicability of RJ in prisons.

Borbala FELLEGI (PhD, MA, MPhil) is a researcher in criminology and social policy, founder and executive director of the Foresee Research Group. Previously she coordinated an AGIS project on behalf of the European Forum for Restorative Justice. She has been working as consultant for the Council of Europe, the UNODC, the National Crime Prevention Board and the Office of Justice in Hungary. She regularly gives lectures and trainings on restorative justice at various universities. On behalf of the Foresee Research Group she is in charge of Hungarian and EU programmes researching the potential application of mediation in community conflicts and in the prison settings. Her publications and activities are available in detail on and on

The presentation can be downloaded here.

The background and the first results of an empirical research in prisons by Szandra Windt (Hungary)

In the frame of the MEREPS project (which is founded by the EU) the National Institute of Criminology has a great opportunity to research the attitudes of juveniles, adult inmates, correctional staff, policy makers, legislators and other key stakeholders towards RJ. Main motivations, concerns and needs were explored through the interview-based research in order to tailor future policy developments to the specific needs and attitudes of the key stake holders.
The research was conducted in two different types of prisons: in a jail for adults and in another one for juveniles. It means that we had some problems with the questionnaire and the whole preparation of our survey: how to select the inmates (mostly those who committed serious crimes), how to ask them about their victims, offences and feelings in connections with them. In the frame of the quantitative research we filled 200 questionnaires with the inmates and beside this made about 50 in-depth interview with inmates (on how they solve their conflicts, and on the attitudes towards the RJ) as well. We asked jailers, psychologists, teachers (about 50 staff members) who work in the researched prisons: about their feelings in connection with the RJ, how they solve the problems in the jails (problems among the inmates, conflicts with them etc.).
While both the quantitative and qualitative research have been finished until June: in the presentation there were only some pre-results and experiences of a survey in connection with the attitudes of RJ in prison.

Dr. Szandra WINDT, has studied sociology at the Pázmány Péter University, and has got a PhD thesis in Criminology. She is a researcher at the National Institute of Criminology since 2002. She is a sociologist of settlement. She is dealing with situational crime prevention, postponement of the accusation and the possibilities of mediation.

The presentation can be downloaded here.

The possibility of RJ in prison settings (The first issues of the MEREPS project in two Hungarian prisons) by Andrea Tünde Barabás (Hungary)

In Hungarian criminal law it is not the aim of the penal system to foster reconciliation between parties and nor is it suitable for it to do so. Mediation as part of the penal process became available in 2007. There are, however, legal limits to the use of mediation, e.g. it can only be used in crimes punishable by imprisonment of up to five years, in other words it cannot be used in the case of serious crimes. The last stage at which victim-offender conflict-resolution can be carried out is the court of first instance; later, including during the execution of sentence, it cannot be applied. Victims of serious crimes and imprisoned offenders do rarely have the possibility to participate in any restorative programme and gain from its benefits. Nevertheless, its importance is unquestionable, since serious crimes do have the most significant impact on victims and offenders. Moreover, as several research showed, the positive effect of RJ can be the most visible in cases of more serious crimes.
In 2009 Hungarian criminologists and their international partners have obtained support from the European Union Criminal Justice Programme for empirical research in the field of the mediation and RJ in prison settings (MEREPS Project) in international cooperation. The National Institute of Criminology (OKRI) in Hungary is the professional leader of the project. In 2010 OKRI is carrying out quantitative and qualitative empirical research concerning the attitudes of inmates and prison staff towards restorative justice. The presentation dealed with the first results of this survey.

Dr. Andrea TÜNDE BARABÁS studied law at Eötvös Lorand University Budapest. She received a Scholarship for Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1989-92. In 1992-93 she followed postgraduate studies at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Her Ph.D. thesis was a comparative study on alternatives to sanctions and on mediation. Since 1998 she is Head of Division of the National Institute of Criminology.

The presentation can be downloaded here. The pictures included in the presentation were taken by Dr. Andrea Tünde Barabás.

A Belgian mediation story by Els Goossens (Belgium)

In this workshop the audience got a small introduction into the Belgian way of mediating. In Belgium (Flanders) the mediating service handles both minor and serious crimes. The audience got information about the Belgian mediation history, the different forms of mediation and the law.
But most of the time was dedicated to a story of a mediation in a murdercase. The presentation outlined a mediation between the mother of a victim and the offender. Both before and after the trial the mother of the victim and the offender had a face-to-face meeting in a Belgian prison. Through this story the audience got information about:
- the methodology of mediation: various stages of mediation, written agreements, face-to-face meetings, etc.
- the principals of mediation: voluntary, confidence and neutrality
- the possibilities and limitations of mediation in prison settings: the cooperation with the prison, how to accompany a victim to visit a prison, how to assure the aftercare of the offender, etc.
- the role of aid figures for victim and offender
The focus was on best practices, also other examples were discussed.
Els GOOSSENS studied social work in Leuven. For 4 years she worked with youth who live in an institution because they’ve committed crimes or because of their problems at home. Since January 2001 Els Goossens works as a victim–offender mediator for adults in Dendermonde for Suggnomè (Forum for Restorative Justice and Mediation Belgium).

The presentation can be downloaded here (link előadás).

Forgiveness and hope after prison. Family group decision making and family group conferencing in prison setting by Vidia Negrea (Hungary)

The idea of using Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) processes with adult offenders, especially when the crime is combined with drug addiction, was put into practice trough a project initiated in Hungary by probation officers and supported by the National Crime Prevention Board. The Hungarian IIRP affiliate, Community Service Foundation, assisted this project by offering training, consulting and on-site assistance to 80 probation officers all over the country. The aim was to help those who are about to be released from jail or prison, or ex-prisoners to reintegrate into society and support them to start a new life with the support of their immediate social network. However, the experiment showed that more complex support is available, not just for them, but for the offender‘s victimized families. The session offered a brief overview of the methodology and the process of FGDM, presented some of the findings and discussed issues related to the attitudes of professionals as facilitators or participants.

Vidia NEGREA is a clinical psychologist with experience in juvenile delinquency and restorative practices. After spending a year learning about restorative practices while working at CSF (PA.,USA), she founded CSF of Hungary pioneering restorative practices in fields related to troubled youths. She is a trainer and consultant for the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) in Europe and teaches restorative courses in higher education in Hungary.

The presentation can be downloaded here.

“The more serious the offence, the more powerful the effect?”: An evaluation of VOM in a prison setting by Steve Tong and Jo O‘Mahoney (UK)

Victim-Offender Mediation was recently introduced to the Sheppey Cluster of Prisons in Kent (UK) with the aim of promoting healing for the victim, improving offender empathy and remorse, and enabling offenders to reintegrate back into society more effectively. A longer term aim is to promote a reduction in re-offending. At present there has been little research evidence regarding the potential and limitations of victim-offender mediation and restorative conferencing in a prison context within the UK. This paper presented interim results of independent evaluation research conducted by a multi-disciplinary team at The Department of Law and Criminal Justice Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University from July 2008. Working closely with practitioners, this ongoing evaluation involves collecting observational data from restorative justice awareness training for prison officers and qualitative interviews with those involved in the mediation process. In particular, it has focused upon the perceptions of victims, offenders and other key stakeholders (mediators, offender managers and prison supervisors) and their experiences of the mediation process. Quantitative data collected as part of this evaluation will be included in the next stage of the research.

Dr Steve TONG is a Principal Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University (UK). Dr Tong‟s research interests include restorative justice, policing and police training, performance measurement and qualitative research methods. He is currently Project Leader of a multidisciplinary team evaluating the use of Victim-Offender Mediation for adult prisoners. Email: [email protected]

Dr Jo O‟MAHONEY is Programme Director and Senior Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University (UK). Dr O‟Mahoney‟s research interests include restorative justice, young people and crime and criminal justice policy and practice. She is currently working on the Prisons project with Dr Tong and involved in the Departmental Mediation Clinic.
Email: [email protected]

The presentation can be downloaded here.

The website of the European Forum for Restorative Justice can be reached here.

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