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Reforms Create Open Door for Restorative Justice in Chile

Chile is enacting significant justice system reforms that seem to be opening doors for more restorative elements . Problems with crime and lack of trust in the criminal justice system provoked both the government and civil society to seek new options and creative solutions when seeking justice. These include more emphasis on victim’s issues, the creation of community mechanisms for dealing with conflict, and the introduction of mediation projects into schools.
Activities of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) 
The most acceptance of restorative processes is seen in the non-governmental sector. 

The Catholic University of Temuco identifies the lack of confidence in the justice system  as a central problem and the need for peaceful alternatives as a pressing need in Chilean society. The university's solution is the Proyecto CREA- Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution. The project seeks to

  • advance the academic knowledge in the area of Alternative Dispute Resolution;
  • disseminate information throughout the society; and
  • provide services to the community.

Proyecto CREA offers free mediation services in the areas of family, civil, and penal law. The facilitators seek to help parties in conflict find a settlement that helps resolve the problem and create new relationships. The eventual goal of this program is to equip Chilean society to resolve conflicts without turning to retribution. 

The Fundación Paz Ciudadana focuses on the issues of justice and  reforming the system to protect citizens.  One area of focus is peace education. The Project for Peaceful Conflict Resolution and School Mediation is one step in that direction.  The project introduced mediation in three high schools in the Cerro Navia community. The first step in implementing this project included evaluating the types of conflicts encountered, the background of students, and current methods of handling  situations.  This study was the basis for implementing the project. In its recommendations for dealing with youth violence and crime in Chile, the Fundación included the need for these types of programs to be implemented in all schools.    

Government Activities 

These NGO responses to the crime problem in Chile are taking place in an atmosphere of official justice system reform. While not  fully restorative, government changes address transparency, access to justice, and reintegration.

For alternatives to incarceration, Chile only uses conditional remission of sentence, night confinement, and parole. Yet, two provinces are testing a more restorative model, the use of  "reparative agreements." This alternative centers on the needs of both the victim and the offender. The process accepts the role of the victim in the justice process and allows the reparative agreement to terminate the penal process. Penal mediation is also possible for minor offenses. 

To address the needs of  victims, Chile created Assistance Units for Victims of Violent Crimes. These units provide psychological, legal, and material support. The mental state of the victim is immediately taken into account as well as physical condition. Counseling and trauma intervention seek to aid the victim in healing, with services extending to the family when necessary.. At the same time community activities and support networks are organized to prevent isolation and to sensitize the community to the needs of victims. Legal assistance helps the victim understand the justice process. As a part of the “Access to Justice” movement, this assistance extends to representing the victim in and out of court in seeking reparation. 

In attempting to more successfully reintegrate offenders into society, Chile has sought to involve the community. Halfway houses and shelters form one strategy for providing social support networks to enable offenders to avoid former habits or social patterns leading to offending behavior. The government also partners with community development networks to strengthen the offender's community ties and to provide them education and training.

Community organization and empowerment is a final area permitting some restorative elements. Through identifying respected community leaders and providing them with training on understanding the system, and dispute resolution processes, the reform effort seeks to place some aspects of the justice process in the hands of the community. These Consultorios Jurídicos Vecinales (roughly neighborhood judicial consultancy) provide a first option for parties in conflict. Operating  along the lines of community mediation, they address a wide array of disputes from disagreements between neighbors to those with organizations or institutions. The objective is to prevent conflicts from becoming violent and to give citizens the power to resolve their own problems.  

Each of these projects, both in government and civil society, reveal openings for the growth of restorative justice in Chile. The reform process is just beginning and is open to innovative solutions. Aided with the study and renewal of indigenous justice traditions, these beginnings bode well for restorative justice in Chile. 

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Resources used for this article.

Centro de Mediación. Centro de Resolución Alternativa de Conflictos.

Chia, Enrique, Daniela Bolivar, Marcela Castillo, and Lucía Trujillo. N.d. “Presentación y analysis de un sistema de atención juridico y psicologico a victimas de delitos violentos.”

Cox Urrejola, Sebastián. N.d. “Politicas sociales y justicia comunitaria: Acciones de interés público desde la scociedad civil en Chile.”

Cox Urrejola, Sebastian. 1999. “Seguridad Pública: Un desafío para la gobernabilidad democrática; una oportunidad para la participación ciudadana.”

Geisse Graepp, Francisco. Jefe División Defensa Social. Ministry of Justice. Personal Communication.

Gobierno de Chile. N.d. “Reforma de la Ciudad y el territorio.”

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Chile. 2000. “National Report of Chile to the Tenth UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Treatment of Offenders.” Tenth United Nations Crime Congress on Crime Prevention and Treatment of Offenders. April 10-17.

Ruz Donoso, Loreto. N.d. “La reforma al sistema de enjuiciamiento criminal en Chile.” 

Valdivieso, Carlos. N.d. “Violencia y delincuencia en Chile.” 

Valenzuela, Ana María. N.d. .”Diagnostigo convicvencia escolar en centros educacionals de Cerro Navia.” Proyecto Resolución Pacifica De Conflictos y Mediación. Fundación Paz Ciudadana.

 

      

By Lynette Parker

February 2002

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