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Sunday 25th of October 2020

Press Room

IJJO Interviews- Jean Schmitz, International expert on restorative justice

Friday 5th of December 2014

In this interview, Jean Schmitz describes the activities and the projects undertaken by the Latin American Institute for Restorative Practices – ILAPR, Instituto Latino Americano de Prácticas Restaurativas - and explains the importance of spreading innovative methods of restorative justice, particularly in Latin America. This institution, based in Lima and whose main goal is to promote and foster learning, personal growth and social responsibility while promoting human and citizen relationships, betting on a better quality of life, as well as on an emotional well-being and a respect for citizens' rights, uses a methodology based on restorative practices. In these lines, Jean Schmitz will, among other issues, talk about the lessons on restorative practices taught at the ILAPR and describe the positive outcomes of using restorative justice practices, especially in a school environment, in order to reduce or prevent violence and crime by making people feeling they are part of a community in which they can share their feelings and ideas.

QUESTION.- With a history of over 10 years working on restorative practices in Latin America, could you please share with us the advances and progress made in the implementation of restorative justice in Latin and Central America? In your opinion, what are the main constraints and major challenges to the promotion of this approach?

ANSWER.- When the “Terre des hommes” foundation began to promote restorative juvenile justice in Peru in 2002, I can clearly remember (since I was a delegate of that foundation in the country between 2002 and 2010), that this concept was a new and largely unknown one. Gradually, through a long process of awareness and training of social and legal workers, restorative justice has begun to gain importance at the expense of the retributive model that was generally applied in the country, even when the offences were committed by minors.

In five years, restorative juvenile justice in Peru has evolved from an initial pilot project run by an international NGO (the “Terre des homes” Foundation) to a National Program led by the Public Prosecutor. This is a remarkable achievement, because it means that today, restorative justice has come to be seen in Peru as a public policy.

However, we are still far from being able to say that in Peru and in other Latin American countries the full implementation of restorative justice has been achieved. According to McCold & Wachtel (2003), when the criminal justice involves only one of the parties, as in the case of financial compensation granted by the government to the victim or in the case of a community service imposed on the offender, the process can only be considered partially restorative. When a process such as the mediation between the victim and the offender includes two of the key stakeholders but excludes their surrounding communities, it can be considered mainly restorative. The process is only completely restorative when the three key stakeholders are actively involved, like in restorative meetings or restorative circles; this is then a completely restorative process. We must recognize that there are still few completely restorative experiences. Most experiences are only partially or primarily restorative.

Q.- The International Expert Consultation on Restorative Justice for Children was held in June 2013 in Bali. This meeting resulted in the document Promoting Restorative Justice for Children (2013), which talks about restorative justice and its benefits, whilst also offering proposals. What do you think of the results of the International Expert Consultation and of the results presented in the aforementioned document?

A.- The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, Marta Santos Pais, in close collaboration with the governments of Indonesia and Norway, organized this international expert consultation on the development and implementation of restorative justice policies that are appropriate for children in Bali. Professionals from different countries attended the meeting and shared their experiences and best practices in this area, all of them belonging to both the public sector and civil society (NGOs, universities ...), and coming from countries such as Indonesia, South Africa, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, Australia, Norway, the Philippines, Thailand, Brazil and Peru. In particular, Dr. Rita Figueroa, Head Prosecutor of the National Program on Restorative Juvenile Justice in Peru and with whom we promote the restorative approach in the juvenile justice system of the country since 2004, had the honour of taking part in this consultation.

This consultation enabled the exchange of legislative experiences, policies and programs that are being developed in countries undergoing processes to reform the law to shift from a punitive to a restorative paradigm, that is to say one that is respectful of children, , in order to ensure their rehabilitation and their reintegration at a community level, whilst considering the needs of all those affected by the infringement of the law.

Personally, what I most appreciate about this consultation is that it made it possible to obtain a general overview of the existing models of restorative juvenile justice and of the legal structures that support them at a national and a community level, without excluding the problems and shortcomings that always go with them, as well as the strategies promoted to overcome them. Another definite advantage of this event the provision of a list of specific recommendations, all based on real experiences, to build a state policy and support national efforts in the development of restorative justice programs

Another benefit of the consultation is that is was able to describe in detail, the many benefits of the implementation of a juvenile justice program for children, not only for them but also for all the people involved, such as the victims, family members, friends, the community and society as a whole.

Finally, I am pleased that the Final Report of the consultation makes reference to valuable documents such as the Lima Declaration , which was the result of the First World Congress on Restorative Juvenile Justice, held in Lima, Peru in November 2009, or the Estudio y Análisis sobre Costo/Beneficio Económico y Social de los Modelos de Justicia Juvenil en el Perú (Study and Analysis on the Economic and Social Costs and Benefits of Juvenile Justice Models in Peru).

Q.- As director and coordinator of the Latin American Institute for Restorative Practices (ILAPR, Instituto Latino Americano de Prácticas Restaurativas), could you highlight what are the main activities and projects carried out by this institution? What is the existing link or synergy between the ILAPR and the International Institute for Restorative Practices?

A.-The Latin American Institute for Restorative Practices (ILAPR) was created in early 2011 in the city of Lima, capital of Peru (country in South America) and has since then become the Latin American branch of the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), a postgraduate academic institution which offers a masters degree and on-site or online (or both) courses in Restorative Practices and which manages major projects in several countries around the world (SanerSaferSchools, Real Justice ...). You can find complete information about the IIRP on: http://www.iirp.edu/graduate-education.php

Our Latin American Institute coordinates its actions with those of the IIRP, thus helping to present, spread and update knowledge and good practices, as well as sharing of experiences; mainly focusing on the training area throughout the Latin American region. Our vision is to orientate our work towards the prevention of tensions and conflicts, or towards a restorative justice yardstick in the system of the administration of justice, in educational establishments and in workplaces or in any basic community.

At the moment, our main activities are focused on the training of professionals, activists and community leaders in restorative practices, as well as monitoring and counselling projects carried out in different areas, primarily in educational institutions and in the system of administration of justice.

Q- Your institution is carrying out a range of training activities, awareness activities and others on restorative practices. Many of these practices are being developed in a school or a community environment. Could you highlight what results have been obtained during this time in the schools that your institution has worked in? To what extent do you think these type of practices have helped adolescents and young people, and to what extent has it been effective in preventing a worsening of risk situations of exclusion and conflict with the law?

A.- First, I would like to take advantage of the question to make a distinction between the terms "restorative practices" and "restorative justice." According to Ted Wachtel, President of the IIRP, restorative practices are a social science that studies how to build social capital and reach social discipline through a participatory learning and decision making process. Their use helps to reduce crime, violence and school bullying, as well as to strengthen civil society, to improve human behaviours, to repair damages, to provide effective leadership and to restore personal and social relationships.

Restorative justice, however, is considered a subgroup of restorative practices. Restorative justice is reactive and consists of formal and informal responses to crime and any other misconduct once it has occurred.

The IIRP’s concept on restorative practices includes the use of informal and formal processes that precede misconduct, which proactively build relationships and create a sense of community in order to avoid any conflict and misconduct. When the social capital – a network of relationships - is already well established, it is then easier to respond effectively to the acts of misconduct and to restore social order, as well as to create a healthy and positive organisational environment.

Using public health terminology, restorative justice provides tertiary prevention which is applied after the problem has occurred and intends to prevent recurrence. Restorative practices extend that effort through primary prevention, which is applied before the problem occurs.

For example, in criminal justice, restorative circles and restorative meetings allow victims, offenders and their family members and friends to come together and reflect on how each of them has been affected by a crime or an offence and, if possible, to decide how to repair the damage and meet their own needs. (McCold, 2003)

Since it was created nearly three years ago, the ILAPR has trained more than 700 teachers with an initial, primary and secondary level on restorative practices and who work in public and private schools in several Latin American countries. This does not mean that absolutely all of them use the restorative practices they have been taught. We estimate that 20% of them are using the practices themselves on a progressive and regular basis, mainly through restorative circles in classrooms.

A circle is a versatile restorative practice that can be used proactively to develop relationships and build a community, or reactively to respond to misconduct, conflicts and problems. The circles give people the opportunity to talk and listen to each other in an atmosphere of safety, decency and equality. The circle process allows people to tell all their stories and to share their own perspectives (Pranis, 2005). The circle has a broad array of purposes: conflict resolution, healing, support, decision making, exchange of information and development of relationships.

Overall, teachers express their satisfaction through the impressive results they obtain using this tool with their students. With this tool, they discover the possibility to develop enhanced relations between the students themselves, between students and teachers, and between teachers and parents. They have also noticed a reduction in conflict and aggressions in the classroom, as well as an improvement in personal and collective responsibility. The process of resolving a conflict in the classroom through the circle method becomes a learning experience where students become aware of the fact that their aggression affects other people and produces various damages for which they should take responsibility and examine the best possible way to repair them and, to the extent possible, restore the relationships that were broken by the aggression.

Q.- How has the methodology used in this restorative practices course been embraced? What kind of response have you gotten from professionals? And from the students of the schools? Do they generate youth participation in these areas specifically?

A.- The restorative practices courses’ methodology has generally been well received by the participants for several reasons. First, because everything that is taught in the courses is based on, and sustained by real experiences from different parts of the world, which means that examples of good practices and effective initiatives are shared and they encourage the creativity of the participants. Secondly, because the structure of the courses, which balances the theoretical and practical content, takes into account the knowledge and experiences of the participants, as well as their specific work area ( the school, the criminal justice system, the community, etc.). Furthermore, the courses are based on suitably structured pedagogical material including videos, books and scientific articles. In addition, the courses are very dynamic and employ different teaching techniques such as reflection, role play, group work and discussions.

During or after the training, many of the professionals realise that, somehow, they were already acting on their own, in restorative terms without even being aware of it. The course helps them to discover, deepen or broaden their knowledge of simple, yet effective techniques, to build relationships and make connections between individuals who are learning to be respectful and responsible. Whether they are teachers, educators, policemen, judicial officials or they have another job, the professionals learn to build a community and to promote improved social cohesion, helping to avoid or reduce potential or actual tensions and conflicts.

The trained teachers who began implementing some formal restorative practices in their work experience in the classroom, especially the restorative circles, discovered that their students liked to feel actively involved, to be able to express their emotions in a group, to share ideas and opinions, to reflect on an issue or a problem and to seek solutions, and that they were willing to take responsibility and repair the damages caused to another student.

The frequent and intentional use of formal and informal restorative practices in schools progressively contributes to the achievement of clear positive changes in the attitudes and behaviour of students and to the creation of a healthy and safe climate in the classroom which promotes leadership and responsibility.

Q- Within the program you are undertaking, a special emphasis is made on the section called "restorative areas." Could you explain what these areas are exactly? In your opinion, what are the strengths, as well as the challenges and difficulties of those restorative areas?

A.- The idea is very simple and, in fact, it is what motivates me to promote it in Latin America. A "restorative area" is an area for further peaceful coexistence, where authorities, citizens and public and private institutions adopt the restorative practices approach as a social policy and apply it their everyday life activities and relationships.

The restorative philosophy is based on the conviction that the human coexistence can improve when people feel they are part of a community and that they can participate in matters that affect them. Restorative practices offer us a method of dialogue whose effectiveness is proven, as well as means to prevent and respond to violence and conflict, and to meet needs whilst ensuring respect for the rights of the people. All of these methods have a unifying effect on communities.

Even in groups with a healthy sense of community, conflicts and disagreements occur occasionally. Restorative practices provide systems to deal with these situations through dialogue. This way of handling the conflict not only helps to solve it, but also helps to strengthen the connections between people and to improve the relationships throughout the all community

The creation of a "restorative zone" confronts us with an exciting challenge. Restorative practices are based on the conviction that we have compassionate and competent professionals, adult residents and community leaders who adopt a unified and consistent approach that improves the performance and behaviour among children and young people, in their homes, in the streets, at school and in all the areas of the community. It is, therefore, all about beginning from what already works in the community and promoting and developing it in order to strengthen social cohesion and the sense of community.

This approach is effective in preventing violence, significantly reducing its rates, addressing tensions and interpersonal, group and community conflicts, all the while promoting proactive ways to repair relations. At the same time, the approach develops knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour, as well as values such as respect, cooperation, empathy and responsibility. It also offers opportunities to repair the damages caused and, as far as possible, to restore broken relationships between people.

The regular and usual use of the restorative practices approach by people (children, adolescents, young people, adults, and seniors) and institutions (workplaces, schools, services, businesses, public transport, etc.) contributes to the development of healthier and safer social communities.

The creation of a “restorative area” is first and foremost a process that unfolds in a participatory manner and one which goes through various steps and requires time, dedication, funding and, above all, political will.

Building a "restorative zone" requires a huge training and monitoring process of the practices in each of the institutions where they are introduced, such as schools, police stations and any other public service.

For example, a member of the community or the police force who monitors a park or a sports field should, instead of expelling children and young people in order to ensure peace, interact with them; seeking to establish connections and trust, and to promote a positive behavioural change without the use of force. His or her mission should be to control (have authority, set limits and expectations), but provide support (be friendly, motivating, provide support and proper guidance, etc.).

At school, although the mission of the teachers is to educate their students and develop their abilities, the academic tasks or authoritarian and unidirectional instructions given by the teachers are not enough to reach this goal. We need the teachers to have control (authority, boundaries, expectations), but to always provide support (be friendly and motivational, provide support and guidance, etc.) because the academic performance depends not only on requirements and obligations, but also on the good relations and positive connections the teacher develops with his or her students. Conducting group work and restorative circles helps the teacher to reach this goal, as well as the regular use of effective statements and questions.

While the provision of social services, public and private, seeks the general welfare of citizens (especially children), the mission of the employees of these services is not only to meet the technical quality of the assigned service, but also to ensure the quality of the customer service of all its users.

Other examples of other roles in different areas (health, trade, and environment) can be noted, but for all of them it will always be necessary to highlight the two axes of any restorative behaviour, which are control and support.

Finally, the implementation of restorative practices in any given area must be understood as a gradual and continuous process, where all individuals in a position of authority (parent, teacher, police, service director, employer...) are not only willing to promote them, but are wholly convinced of the benefits of the everyday use of those practices in creating a more united, happy, collaborative and productive community which is more likely to be able to prevent and deal with any tension or conflict that may arise within the community itself. A regular and wide use of restorative practices can be seen and easily measured in the short, medium and long term.


  • International Juvenile Justice Observatory (IJJO). Belgian Public Utility Foundation

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  • Head Office: Rue Armand Campenhout, nº 72 bte 10. 1050. Brussels. Belgium

    Phone: 00 32 262 988 90. Fax: 00 32 262 988 99. oijj@oijj.org

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