Source: (2004) Papers presented at the Third Conference of the European Forum for Victim-Offender Mediation and Restorative Justice, 'Restorative Justice in Europe: Where are we heading?', Budapest, Hungary, 14-16 October. Downloaded 22 September 2005.

Research data on 500 delinquent boys showed that six months after leaving the reformatory, 75 percent had reoffended. Data analysis revealed that the boys who had most closely followed reformatory rules break the law sooner and more often than others. The reasons for this failure were too complex to be fully examined within the limits of our research. Nonetheless we discovered some interesting facts through our interviews with former students. We found that the long absence from home increased a boy`s sense of isolation and reduced the emotional support from his family. Because of changes in family circumstances during the boy’s institutionalization, his reintegration was very difficult when he returned home. Also little was learned by the predominantly gypsy students during their stay in the institution that was seen as positive by their gypsy culture. Further, the young person was still labelled as an offender in his home community. Even if he had demonstrated good behavior while in the institution this fact was unknown to those in the community where he returned. In studying the development of empathy and altruistic feelings (Hoffman, 1991, Davies, 1994, and Kulcsar, 1998) we began to experiment with what I later learned might be called “restorative practices.�? We asked students to share their feelings about their offense by writing an imaginary letter to the victim of their crime. In almost all of the letters students expressed that they were sorry and often they also expressed the wish that the victim would forgive them. A great many of the letters included a request to meet with the victim, although at the same time offenders found the idea intimidating. Nonetheless they viewed the meeting as a chance to express their regret to their victims. I would later realize that our results were consistent with the restorative paradigm, that the students wanted to shed their offender label and be accepted as good people whose behavior had been unacceptable (Braithwaite, 1989). Fortunately the changes of the Hungarian legislation merged in a direction where children were having problems, intervention strategies were now to be guided by treatment and social support principles rather than by control and punishment. A state-wide investigation helped legislators recognize that the traditional, centralized system of institutions should be replaced by more family-like environments and innovative approaches. (excerpt)