Restorative justice: New approaches in Brazil
Dec 03, 2009
Today, most of the deaths of Brazilian adolescents are caused by gang-related murders.
To counteract gangs’ advanced organization police repression looks more and more like guerrilla. However, the government is realizing that a strictly adversarial approach is not going to advance a resolution.
In the mid-1990s, Dominic Barter began working with favela residents, including drug gang members, to help them strengthen nonviolent options for working with young people. “I saw violence as a monologue,” said Barter, referring to both gang activity and its repression, “I wanted to create a dialogue.”
....In June 2000 Rio was shocked by a violent bus hijacking, ending with the tragic shooting of the hijacker and a passenger by a Rio police officer. Barter, who saw the whole of the events on television, later learned how negotiations between police and assailant had been bungled. He also realized with shock that he had once met the hijacker. Looking for a way out of such dead-ends Barter started calling everyone he knew, and began to explore how to deal with such situations differently. This meant first of all teaching himself and his allies, then offering trainings, and finally approaching the police with ideas for nonviolent methods of conflict resolution.”
The municipal governments soon requested Barter’s help in mediating meetings between the chief of police and associations of favela’s residents. The approach favored listening to what the people wanted and responding to it, rather than introducing readymade answers. Through some of these projects it was also possible to bring together favela youth with affluent school-age children to play, learn computer skills, and support local health workers.
As stated earlier, in early 2005 the Ministry of Justice hired Barter to develop a mediation model and train facilitators for two new pilot projects, in São Paulo and Porto Alegre.
Over time Barter developed “restorative circles” which involve three key participants: the “author of a given act”, the “recipient of that act” and the local community or the justice system. The two new terms were preferred to ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’ in recognition of the little distinction that often separates the two.