Criminal Justice 2008

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Sensitising programme for offenders in the Balassagyarmat Prison

Uploaded at: 2010. 10. 05.


As a part of the MEREPS Project an all-day long „Zacchaeus programme” about taking responsibility, and looking at the victim’ side of the story was held with 18 inmates in the Balassagyarmat Prison on the 28th of September. 2010. The aim of the course was to prepare and raise awareness of the participants, so when the MEREPS pilot project on in-prison mediation starts up in October they support it and are willing to take a part in the project and support the prison staff and inmates in taking an active role in the pilot.

MEREPS's „Zacchaeus programme”, also known internationally as The Sycamore Tree Project® is an intensive 5-8 week in-prison programme that brings groups of crime victims into prison to meet with groups of unrelated offenders. They talk about the effects of crime, the harms it causes, and how to make things right.

The programme was named after the story in Luke 19:1-10 about Jesus and Zacchaeus, a dishonest tax collector.  Zacchaeus came to see Jesus but couldn’t get through the crowd.  So he climbed a Sycamore Tree to get a better view. Jesus noticed him and stopped to talk. Out of that meeting came something unexpected: Zacchaeus repented and agreed to pay back his victims. Jesus then helped the crowd understand the reconciling power of biblical (restorative) justice.

At the beginning of the programme, the participants had time to get to know each other, and were told the story of Jesus and Zachaeus. After this the participants talked about questions related to the story, compared the story to their own lives, and spoke about what they would have done if they were in the story. This was followed by a group-talk about the effects of crime, and taking responsibility with documentary-watching and a break at the end. After the break, the participants talked about meeting the victims, making amends, fining peace, then each of them told the others about what he/she learned during the programme, how the programme helped him/her.

At the end of the programme, Borbala Fellegi, executive of the MEREPS-leading Foresee Research Group held a presentation about the possible effects of the upcoming pilot project on the participants’ lives.

The one-day workshop was led by Csilla Katona, facilitator, representing the Prison Fellowship Hungary, and was assisted by some colleagues from the National Institute of Criminology and the Community Service Foundation Hungary.

During the programme, the experts experienced great openness, sensitivity, and motivation from the participants’. Many of the participants said that they never even thought about these kinds of things before. Also adds to the success of the programme, that numerous inmates siganlized, that they would be open for a mediation meeting with their victims, should the other side be willing as well.

The flyer of Sycamore Tree Project® can be downloaded here

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