International Juvenile Justice Observatory Conference, Brussels

The 6th International Juvenile Justice Observatory (IJJO) Conference entitled “Making deprivation of children’s liberty a last resort – Towards evidence-based policies on alternatives” was held in Brussels (3-4 December 2014). The event brought together around 300 participants from all over the world. During the presentations and workshops, restorative justice was one of the key elements in offering alternative ways of dealing with juvenile delinquency and avoiding deprivation of liberty of children.

IJJO_photoThe EFRJ was honoured to be invited to this conference. Edit Törzs, Project Officer at the EFRJ was given the floor to present the brand new short film of the EFRJ “Restorative justice. Inspiring the future of a just society for all“. Participants welcomed the short movie, which introduced the topic of the following plenary session on “Implementing effective restorative justice practices to interrupt the cycle of violence and juvenile crime”. The plenary focused on the potentials of using restorative justice in crimes involving young offenders. In presenting the findings of extensive academic research David Farrington, Emeritus Professor at Cambridge University, stressed the importance of identifying specific factors in youth behaviours that can be associated with persistent criminal conducts and recidivism. Tim Chapman, Lecturer at the University of Ulster and Board member of the EFRJ, pointed out how restorative justice can effectively break this cycle of juvenile crime by engaging the parties and stimulating the sense of responsibility for the harm they have caused among young offenders. During his presentation, Prof. Frieder Dunkel from University of Greifswald, president-elect of the European Society of Criminology, reported the findings of a recent study collecting detailed information on legislation and implementation of restorative justice in penal matters across different European countries.

In addition to this plenary session, the implementation of restorative justice approaches within the juvenile justice field has been discussed in occasions. The presentations during the workshop “Fostering restorative and mediation-based practices by empowering the community” on Thursday afternoon discussed the Implementation of restorative justice practices in different countries. Based on the Dutch programme STOP implemented in the Netherlands, a local organisation in Croatia successfully decreased the incidence of some misdemeanours committed by youngsters in Zagreb and will now start a similar project in another city. Another speaker reported about a case where a young Sudanese boy was charged of stealing goods from his neighbour. Despite the boy committed the crime to provide for the food for his family, he was found guilty and was facing criminal charges. However the victim agreed within a conferencing meeting to let the boy work in a local restaurant until he would have been able to repay for the stolen goods. After this period the boy got a job at the restaurant and he can now support his family without committing crimes. In Spain, a case of group bullying against a wheel chaired classmate has been dealt with restorative justice practices. Despite the initial diffidence of the families who were also invited to attend the meetings, the victim was able to share about his daily life and his difficulties directly with those have bullied him. The storytelling experience was so influential that the former bullies, realizing the harm caused, started to help not only him but also volunteering in local associations taking care of people with disabilities. This is only one example of the many cases dealt with restorative justice practices by a network of around 70 organisations active in Spain. Another presenter described the legal framework and achievements of restorative justice for young offenders in South Korea. Academic studies in South Korea show that restorative justice can better address the needs of victims, offenders and their family, who prefer more humanized or personalized process than the official criminal justice one.

The 6th IJJO International Conference was an inspiring experience and EFRJ is looking forward to cooperate more closely with IJJO on the application of restorative justice approaches within the juvenile justice field.