Restorative Justice Everywhere: Final Update from the UN Crime Congress
Apr 17, 2010
Friday (my last day at the UN Crime Congress) was busy with ancillary sessions and sitting through one of the main workshops. The first ancillary session, organised by Prison Fellowship International, looked at Latin American Experiences with Restorative Justice. I opened the session with a brief introduction of the participants describing the goal of the session as opening a dialogue on the various experiences with restorative justice in the region.
Joanna Heskia, from Pontificia Universidad Católica y Universidad Alberto Hurtado in Chile, opened with an overview of advances in that country. She described the inclusion of restorative principles in a reform of the penal process that included alternative conflict resolution, reparative agreements, and a conditional suspension of the process. The Ley de Responsabilidad Penal Adolescente (Law of Juvenile Penal Responsibility), which came into force in 2006, created a catalogue of flexible sanctions including the reparation of harm and community service.
She went on to explain that the law describes a fundamental principle for the prosecutor as working with the juveniles to improve their situation and the content of the sentence. According to Joanna, “penal mediation is an ideal mechanism for obtaining the said end, because it promotes the understanding of the responsible juvenile offender and also increases the level of satisfaction of the victim.”
Although penal mediation was not mentioned in the Ley de Responsabilidad Penal Adolescente, a pilot programme was created to use penal mediation as a way of achieving alternative for ending the court process. A special unit working with juvenile offenders coordinated with regional prosecutors and the Corporación de Asistencia Judicial (Corporation for Judicial Assistance) to identify cases suitable for mediation and refer them to mediation centres. The project started in September 2009, with 41 cases being referred as of March 2010.
Joanna explained that mediation with adult offenders was actually much more successful. In 2009, 207 cases were handled by a mediation office located within the prosecutor’s office. In terms of results, 70% of mediation ended in a reparative agreement. There was a reported 97% satisfaction rate for mediated cases, even when they did not reach agreement.
In finishing her presentation, Joanna explained that lack of resources was one of the biggest problems in expanding the use of restorative processes in responding to crime. She said, “There are always pilot projects, but not institutionalisation.”
Marcelo Gomes Moutinho, from the Fraternidade Brasileira de Assistência aos Condenados, discussed the APAC methodology that was developed in Brazil. I discussed the APAC methodology in my entry on Restorative Justice in Prisons so I will give just a couple of highlights from Marcelos presentation. He gave us a very real view of the APAC prisons with a video showing recuperandos – the ones being rehabilitated – from APAC describing their experiences with the programme. It was a powerful example of how even the prison setting can be transformed when the mentality behind the management changes from retributive to restorative.
In his overview, Marcelo explained that there are 12 elements that make up the APAC methodology. One of these includes working with families and victims of the recuperandos. This includes meetings to help understand the harm done. For most of the recuperandos, the reparative work for victims consists of community service or service to crime victims. However, during the question and answer period, Marcelo shared the story of one man who had been convicted of murder. There was a meeting between the widow of the victim and the wife of the offender to share harm and experiences. Then, because the family of the offender lived at some distance from the prison and weren’t able to victim him, the family members of the victim decided to do by visiting him every weekend. It was a powerful story of transformed relationships.
The session included about 45 minutes for discussion and the audience was very active. Jean Schmit, coordinator for the restorative juvenile justice project in Peru, challenged Joanna on the lack of implementation of restorative processes in the country. He referred to his own experiences in Peru and the recent Lima Declaration that reaffirmed the implementation of “restorative juvenile justice.” There was also a question on recidivism rates for the APAC methodology. The many were surprised that in some of the facilities, it is as low as 10%.
There was some discussion of the importance of bringing community members and organisations in to the restorative process with individuals from Ecuador and Brazil also adding from their experiences. One attendee from the United States commented how she was hearing a lot of similarities between the restorative justice movement in her country and that in Latin America.
After the session, Jean Schmit challenged me on the issue of “lack of resources.” He was adamant that there is not a lack of resources in the criminal justice system. The problem is that they are mismanaged with a preference for spending on prison rather than community based penalties. In Peru, they have been able to show that community based penalties are more effective and cheaper than prison based interventions. The question is how to change paradigms so that some of the resources are reallocated to strengthen alternative sanctions.
During the afternoon, I attended the Workshop on Strategies and Best Practices against Overcrowding in Correctional Facilities organised by the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute. Unfortunately I was in ancillary sessions in the morning and missed the presentation from David Carruthers on restorative justice as a response and a statement made by the Friends World Committee for Consultation. However, the afternoon session, which concentrated on sentencing and rehabilitation, revealed some great food for thought.
For example, a panellist from Brazil explained the development of alternative penalties in her country and the use of community service in response to minor offending. She stated that there needs to be more strength given to the restorative paradigm. One avenue for doing this is to change legal structures to encourage the implementation of alternatives.
Christine Glenn, Parole Commissioner from Northern Ireland, discussed the use of parole in lowering prison populations and helping offenders reintegrated into society. During her presentation, she outlined issues related to risk management and controls that can be used in assuring public safety while releasing offenders. One of the key components of service delivery was restorative justice. She talked about the huge impact restorative programmes can have on prisoner thinking, thereby helping them move beyond offending.
Dr. Kittipong Kattayarak, Permanent Secretary for Justice in Thailand, described a probation programme that had tremendous impact on drunk driving offenders. The key to the programme was the involvement of community members. It included placing carefully chosen offenders in community service assignments that would help to sensitise them to the impact of drunk driving on victims. This included assisting/caring for victims of car wrecks, service in hospitals, and participation in awareness raising campaigns. Dr. Kattayarak stressed the need to incorporate research into project design so that decisions can be made upon evidence.
For me, the most interesting presentation came from N. Masamba Sita, director of the United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders. He called for a “more community-based correctional system.” The approach calls for the inclusion of key social actors in the response to crime. This includes relatives of both the offender and victim, neighbours, friends, local authorities and other community members. These actors are all important to the healing process for the community. Dr. Sita went on to explain that the concept is actually in some international instruments including the Basic Principles on the use of restorative justice programmes in criminal matters.
As I’ve noted in my entries from the Congress, the language of restorative justice really is everywhere. Colleagues who attended the Congress in Vienna ten years ago tell me that this is really different. Obviously, there are still issues related to implementation – as were discussed in the ancillary session – but I think the use of language is positive sign. It means that concepts have achieved a place in the discussion on criminal justice responses and are taken seriously. There is still a of work for implementation and awareness raising to be done.
For those interested in learning more about the events at the Congress, see the 12th Crime Congress blog.