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Restorative practices in Hungary: An ex-prisoner is reintegrated into the community

Nov 22, 2011

from the article by Vidia Negrea:

As the representative of Community Service Foundation of Hungary, the Hungarian affiliate of the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), I participated in a group session of the Hungarian Crime Prevention and Prison Mission Foundation in summer 2009 (Sycamore Tree Project — or Zacchaeus Program in Hungary). There I met the governor of Balassagyarmat prison, where inmates were working in groups on issues related to their crimes and exploring ways to repair relationships they had damaged.

Some inmates began accepting responsibility for what they had done and were motivated to make things right and earn forgiveness of victims and their families. Prisoners made symbolic reparation in the form of community service within the prison, but there was still a lot to do to create opportunities for offenders to make contact with victims and shed the stigma of their offense by means of direct reparation. Also, prison management believed it important to support processes, acceptable to victimized families and communities, to help prisoners regain control of their lives and prevent reoffending.

As a first effort, the prison governor suggested we work with János, a prisoner who had demonstrated dramatic improvement and who, unlike most long-term prisoners, had maintained contact with family through regular letters and visits. The governor and department manager agreed the prisoner and his family could benefit from opportunities before release to plan their future together, discuss potential issues and experience what it felt like to be together again after János’s more than 12-year imprisonment for the crime of murder.

....The first phase of a three-phase intervention plan involved preparing and running a circle meeting with János and his family to prepare for his temporary release. This hybrid restorative circle came out of my experience with FGDM and less formal restorative circles and was designed to meet the needs of prison officials, the prisoner and his family.

....During the second phase of the intervention, a formal FGDM was planned to help restore János and his family’s status and value in the community and prepare for final release.

....During “family alone time” the family met, without the professionals or community members, to develop a specific plan regarding where the family would live, where János would work, how he would pay his debts, and how he could maintain positive relationships and make reparations to his family, the community and the victim’s relatives. The professionals approved the plan and agreed that, should János breach the conditions of his release, he would face serious consequences, including returning to prison to complete his sentence and losing his family’s support.

Read the whole article.

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