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Restorative Justice in Prison: Lynette Parker’s report from the UN Crime Congress

Uploaded at: 2010. 04. 15.


The Government of Brazil hosted the Twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Salvador, from 12 to 19 April 2010.

On the third day of the UN conference, the 15th of April an ancillary session was held, discussing the use of restorative justice in prisons.  Panel presentations included an international overview of restorative justice in prisons, racism in the prison setting and in-prison programmes serving both victims and offenders. The organizers of the ancillary session were Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quakers) and Prison Fellowship International.

Marian Liebmann
opened the session with an overview of trends around the world. She outlined two broad categories for restorative justice expressions in prison. The first was “Prisoners Making amends.” This aspect includes things such as:

•    Community service
•    Victim awareness/empathy/ impact
•    Victim-Offender Mediation/Conferencing

Restorative justice is also used to impact the relationships within the prison community itself. Such work includes:

•    Anti-bullying procedures
•    Response to prison incidents
•    Conflict resolution
•    Prison Staff mediation services (for issues among the staff)
•    Restorative prison projects

Marian Liebmann explained that many to these programmes had seen success around the world. However, they faced many problems with sustainability such as lack of resources once the original funding is used and/or lack of continuity in the staff people, vision, and/or policy change to help the programmes take root and flourish.

The next presentation was Lynette Parker’s featuring two examples from the Prison Fellowship International experience. The Sycamore Tree Project® brings together unrelated victims and offenders in the prison setting for a series of two-hour conversations where they discuss issues of crime and its impact, personal responsibility, confession, repentance, making amends, forgiveness and reconciliation. The programme has been used in over 20 countries with the majority using in on an on-going basis. Independent research has shown the programme to have a positive impact on offender attitudes that are known to lead to re-offending. Participant comments tend to be positive expressing a change in attitude and desire to take responsibility for personal actions.

The Communities of Restoration programme seeks to influence the prison environment with restorative principles. Operated in about 12 countries, Communities of Restoration programmes were inspired by the APAC methodology developed in Brazil by the Association for the Protection and Aid to the Convicted (also Prison Fellowship Brazil). Known as the APAC methodology, this system transforms the typical government/community relationship by including community members in the administration of the prison and working with offenders. This inclusion breaks down the barriers between offenders and the community generally created by incarceration and provides groundwork for the reintegration of the offender back into society. This reality helps to create a strong community environment among prisoners and volunteers that fosters spiritual, behavioral and lifestyle changes.

Lynette Parker was followed by Kimmet Edgar with a discussion of racism in prison concentrating on English prisons. His main goal was to help develop an understanding of the role that racism plays in the prison settings and set out suggestions for how restorative justice principles and processes can be used to respond to racist incidents. Kimmett began by telling a story that had been related to him by a prisoner of mixed race. The prisoner had gone to exchange his old razor for another. The duty officer said that he was busy and the prisoner would have to wait for ten minutes. A white prisoner then approached the duty officer to exchange a razor. The officer immediately allowed this prisoner in to fill his request. The mixed race prisoner felt that this happened because of race. Using this illustration, Kimmett discussed the subtle forms of racism that can affect the prison environment and provided ten recommendations for further action.

Among his recommendations, Kimmett encouraged the inclusion (a restorative value) of prisoners in the discussions on prison management and improving the prison environment. He also finished his anecdote about the mixed race prisoner by telling us the outcome when the prisoner made a complaint. In that process, he was able to explain to the guard how he had felt he had been treated different because of his race. The guard actually had a very positive response in admitting that he didn’t realise that he was acting in a racist manner and apologised to the mixed race prisoner and promising to change behaviour. According to Kimmett, the prisoner reported seeing that guard as a friend from that time forward, going so far as to say that he saw him as someone he could trust.

The ancillary session ended with a very good interaction with the audience of about 30 people. There were some reports on experiences in other countries, especially Brazil. There was a lot of enthusiasm and interest in restorative justice both as an alternative sentence and in the prison setting.

You can read more about Crime Congress events at the 12th Crime Congress Blog.

Note: Ancillary sessions are meetings organised by non-governmental organisation around the various “official” sessions of the United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. They provide an opportunity to share ideas and concepts that might not be discussed in the main sessions.

(Source: RJ Online)

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