A prison on the River Danube by Diana Allesok at Flickr Creative Commons.A prison on the River Danube by Diana Allesok at Flickr Creative Commons."Talks Behind the Walls: Restorative Encounters in Prison Settings," a new paper by Dóra Szegő (Researcher, Foresee Research Group, Hungary) and Dr. Borbala Fellegi (Executive Director, Foresee Research Group, Hungary) published in the Internet Journal of Restorative Justice (IJRJ), tells a story of the promise and challenges of implementing restorative approaches in youth and adult prison settings in Hungary. The following excerpts explain the scope of the report:

The study is based on a pilot project in Hungary carried out within the framework of the EU-funded international project, Mediation and Restorative Justice (RJ) in Prison Settings (MEREPS). This aimed to pilot restorative practises in two Hungarian prisons – an adult and a juvenile – between November 2010 and November 2011. The purpose of the program was to see the extent to which, and the ways in which, different restorative practises can be integrated into the Hungarian prison system generally. The goal of this experiment is to explore the conditions under which good and adaptable practises can be implemented, especially concerning how to involve affected parties in RJ encounters, prepare and run conferences, and do effective follow-ups in the prison setting. This paper contains the results of qualitative evaluation/ research which aimed to map the attitudes of inmates and prison staff towards the principles and practises of restorative justice. (p. 1)
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The aim of the pilot project was to test the applicability of the restorative justice (RJ) approach in the Hungarian prison system: how can practises, representing restorative principles, be introduced in custodial settings? What are the institutional, legal and personal conditions that serve as supportive circumstances? And what are the specific challenging circumstances? The article focuses on RJ's applicability within prison conflicts, thus shedding light on the introduction of the restorative approach and methods. (p. 3)
 
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The pilot project embraces three different perspectives: that of restorative experts, the prison staff, and the attitude of the inmates. In the case of reparation cases, the perspective of the victims offers still another dimension. (p. 5)
 
Training and support were provided by the Sycamore Tree Project of Prison Fellowship International. The main text of this piece describes how the pilot projects were implemented. A significant amount of space is dedicated to looking at the subtleties of prisoner and prison staff dynamics and how they responded to different situations that came up. Quotations are used extensively to highlight different points of view, partial understandings of restorative processes, potential impediments, and also examples of successful integration of restorative perspectives and practices. The text concludes:
 
The result of the project is that, quite uniquely in Hungary, the inmates, victims and prison personnel encounter the culture of conflict management that is built on partnering communication and active responsibility taking. Restorative methods support victims and inmates in coping with their traumas, shame, and feeling of isolation. Indirectly, they can contribute to their social reintegration.
 
Nevertheless, the prison personnel try to do their best in an extremely overloaded and overly bureaucratic institutional system where a single correctional education officer works with 80 - 100 detainees (HHC report, 2006). The novel experiences using restorative techniques and communications with the inmates can potentially protect correctional education officers from burning out, and contribute to making their work more than just the mere maintenance of order, control and administrative documentation. (p. 53)
 
 

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