The first IIRP Europe Conference brought 160 people from 23 countries to Budapest, Hungary, on June 10-12, 2015. For three intense days, participants shared stories, practices and research on restorative practices in criminal justice, education, social services, the workplace, faith communities and other settings. They heard how restorative practices are overcoming centuries of distrust between the Roma people and others in Romania, reintegrating prison inmates back into society in Hungary and helping heal victims of sexual abuse in Ireland. In circle discussions, they brainstormed how restorative practices can improve civil society all over the world. Everyone left the conference inspired to take what they learned back home.
Each day began with plenary presentations, attended by all the participants, followed by a large selection of “breakout” sessions.
Giving people a say in things that matter to them.
Day One — Plenary theme: criminal justice. The first presentation concerned restorative practices in Hungarian prisons, with Vidia Negrea, regional director, IIRP Europe, and Lieutenant Colonel Mihály Kovács, head of department, Balassagyarmat Prison.
Forty probation officers were trained as family group conference facilitators. The restorative practices employed with inmates involved restoring their positive identity, restoring the role of the family, reintegration back into the community and healing harm done to victims.
In the second presentation, a focus on Ireland, Maeve Lewis, executive director of the nonprofit, One in Four, discussed restorative practices in cases of sexual abuse. She emphasized how careful preparation is needed with restorative practices in such cases and how important it is for their staff to function restoratively with each other, to avoid the stress inherent in this difficult work.
Mary Henihan, restorative justice coordinator of the nonprofit, Le Chéile “Together,” talked about their work in youth probation, mentoring and family support. Le Chéile’s evaluation, Building Bridges, found a 21.47% average increase in young people's empathy due to restorative practices, and a €2.92 return on investment for every €1 spent on their programs.
Day Two’s first plenary theme addressed restorative practices in education. Panelists shared their practices, projects and research: from the U.S. (IIRP president John Bailie); the U.K. (special needs educator Nicola Preston and Transforming Conflict director Belinda Hopkins) and Hungary (educator Anett Mundrucz and psychologist Sara E. Tobiás). They talked about how, to be most effective, restorative practices must underlie all relationships in the school building.
Roma people are stepping out of the shadow.
The second plenary, on the theme of community, featured a large team from Cluj, Romania — both Roma and non-Roma — discussing Pata Cluj, a restorative intervention that aims to overcome 700 years of mutual distrust between the Roma people and others in Romania.
Eva Fahlström, a psychodramatist and restorative practitioner from Sweden, facilitated the presentation. She began, "In Sweden 4,600 Romanian beggars sit outside the stores. People say the Romanian government needs to do something. But who speaks to the beggars? There are always good-intended people that want to do things like build houses for the Romas, or for the first nation people, or for the aboriginals. Do you think homeless people can’t do things, too?" Community transformation, she explained, is about "creating a safe place where people are allowed to think, feel, and express themselves. We need to listen to their stories, as fellow human beings."
Members of the Pata Cluj team spoke of their life experiences:
"From the moment I went to kindergarten, my parents want to show me I am no different from the other children. Always you have to prove yourself. At work I always had to prove myself more." — Olimpiu Bela Lacatus, Pata Cluj process leader
"Born in a shadow, living in a shadow, in a parallel world. We should have our own world, but we share a common world. I am a Roma. I want all Roma people to be proud." — Izabella Kasza, Pata Cluj project team member
Making connections between justice, social and family systems
Day Three, the theme was system change. Rob van Pagée, director of Op Kleine Schaal (OKS) and founder of Eigen Kracht Centrale, a restorative agency in the Netherlands, who trains and consults in many countries, engaged participants in a discussion: “Implementing restorative practices in former socialist countries: Where are we in the process since 1989, and what’s next?”
Van Pagée set the context: In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, Eastern European countries had distinctive experiences. He shared a clip of the film, "Singing Revolution," portraying a peaceful demonstration in which a million Estonians, Lithuanians and Latvians held hands and sang in a 600-mile human chain across the three Baltic republics.
Then, in circle discussions, conference participants talked about ways to strengthen our societies through restorative practices. The plenary panelists shared their experiences to fuel the conversation:
"The problem is: Just like after WWII, the reconciliation did not discuss who are the offenders, who are the victims, how are the victims becoming offenders, how are offenders becoming victims?" — Mária Herczog, Chair, Csalad, gyermek, ifhusag Egyesület (Family, Child, Youth Association), Budapest, Hungary; President, Eurochild, Brussels, Belgium
"First we have to be clear where we want to go. Secondly, what kind of resources can we arrange in the most direct way? But we sometimes miss noticing the other people around us." — Maria Petkova, Director, Tulip Foundation, Sofia, Bulgaria
"When we plan, we need to think about the minds we are changing, and what that means. From early childhood, children should experience the responsibility to participate." — Juhaszne Czegledy Ibolya, Programme Advisor, International Office CEE/CIS SOS Village, Hungary
"In Serbia, we had a 10-year vacuum of good things. There has been war and trauma. Our challenge is to make connections between justice, social and family systems." — Zeljka Burgund, President, FICE Serbia, Director, U Krugu Porodice (In the Family Circle), Belgrade, Serbia
"In Bratislava, every third child is in children’s services." — Joseph Mikloško, PRIDE-trainer, Usmev Ako Dar, Bratislava, Slovakia
After lunch, participants watched a film: Letter From the Mayor by Paul de Bont, about a family group conference in a Dutch community struggling with issues that were negatively affecting quality of life in the village.
From back home, IIRP leadership shared what they took away from the conference and what's next:
"This first bi-annual IIRP Europe conference provided a great platform to cement connections and enable collaboration between organizations working to bring restorative practices to their own countries and regions across Europe. IIRP Europe provides a cohesive, collective and representative voice for restorative practices. The conference dovetails with the European Forum for Restorative Justice bi-annual conference and complements the great restorative justice work they do across Europe." — Les Davey, U.K., CEO, IIRP Europe
"The participatory style of the conference helped strengthen the network of those working in intercultural settings, with Roma minorities or with disadvantaged groups. Sharing experiences, we learned that restorative practices can provide the safe space, common language and skills for a better understanding of the similar values we have as humans belonging to different groups. The restorative efforts for social inclusion were well illustrated by the group from Cluj, Romania, through their engagement in a shared responsibility needed to develop relationships in which the differences are viewed as possibilities to learn and collaborate toward building a society we would like our children to live in." — Vidia Negrea, Hungary, Regional Director, IIRP Europe
"As a Hungarian, I was honored that we could host this conference, not only as part of the IIRP team, but also as a citizen of a country that (unfortunately) more and more needs to be reminded of the power of participation and engagement and the value of democracy. My goal and commitment is to do as much as I can to enable people to tell their stories in a non-judgmental time and space, to feel that they are respected citizens regardless of their social status and beliefs, and that human relationships are one of the most beautiful gifts we can have, and we can do much towards (re)building them." — Borbála Fellegi, Ph.D., Hungary, IIRP Lecturer, Director of Foresee Research Group
"This conference demonstrated that a wide cross-section of society, representing education, criminal justice, youth and family services and community leaders, are ready to collaborate more strategically to build a stronger and more meaningful civil society. Presentations showed that restorative practices are being applied in both professional settings and in creative ‘bottom-up’ ways, through families and communities." — John Bailie, Ph.D., USA, President, International Institute for Restorative Practices