MEREPS – Mediation and Restorative Justice in Prison Settings – was a three-year project funded by the EU. According to the now freely available PDF Handbook on Using Restorative Justice in Prisons, "The primary objective of the MEREPS project is to identify ways to apply mediation and restorative practices in prison settings, with special regard to providing support to victims and enabling offenders to take responsibility. It also aims to facilitate the resolution of conflicts resulting from a crime between the victim and the offender, and the offender and their environment, including other inmates, with a view to facilitating the reintegration of offenders following their release."
This project involved six research partners from four countries and had assistance from numerous practitioners in Hungary, where the project was focused. Vidia Negrea, director of IIRP affliliate Community Service Foundation (CSF) of Hungary, wrote to me about this project:
[quote]The project proved that restorative principles can be implemented in the day to day life of a prison by offering support to the staff in their work with prisoners and helping prisoners to learn new ways of dealing with their conflicts.[/quote]
"Between January 17 and 19 in Budapest was the MEREPS projects’s final conference. This was the end of a 3-year international project with a pilot mediation project delivered in the Balassagyarmat Prison. Here the pilot project started with a three-days-long mediation course – Marian Liebmann was the trainer – some of the training elements are in the MEREPS Handbook.
"Our CSF was a local partner and supported the prison project by offering consultancy and supervision to the staff involved. I was in a mentor and facilitator position in this project for one year offering direct support by organizing restorative conferences to deal with conflicts between inmates, or restorative circles to avoid serious conflicts, and organizing FGC/FGDM (Family Group Conferencing/Family Group Decision Making) for prisoners to prepare short-term release from prison.
"The project was important for many reasons, most of all to prove that restorative principles can be implemented in the day to day life of a prison by offering support to the staff in their work with prisoners and helping prisoners to learn new ways of dealing with their conflicts. (Offenses among prisoners decreased substantially, but it cannot be proved that is just because of the restorative intervention.)
"Another successful element was offering prisoners a safe space to rebound and plan the future with their families (in the case of FGC/FGDM). [See several case studies in the MEREPS Handbook including a case study of Negrea's work with one inmate during this project, which was condensed in the IIRP eForum article, Restorative Practices in Hungary: An Ex-prisoner is Reintegrated into the Community]
"From my perspective the biggest outcome: the staff changed its attitude towards their work, the inmates and their own needs while working with restorative practices. Those who learned to facilitate restorative conferences or circles, or mediation type of meetings, showed a dramatic increase in their level of hope, creativity and flexibility of their work. Their fear and feeling of insecurity also dropped because of the relationships developed in a restorative context."
Negrea hopes to present on this project at IIRP's 15th International Conference – Building a Worldwide Restorative Practices Learning Network – August 1-3, 2012 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.