Virtually every country struggles to manage overcrowded court dockets and prisons. The work of Prison Fellowship national affiliates brings them into direct contact with the unjust results on a daily basis. Prisons are expensive but are often also unsanitary breeding grounds for disease. Too many prisoners sentenced to a period of imprisonment return to society with a life sentence due to tuberculosis, HIV, or Hepatitis.
In many countries, a majority of prisoners have not yet been tried and may wait longer for trial than the longest sentence they could receive if found guilty. Prisons are places of violence and corruption. It is no wonder repeat offending rates are so high for released prisoners.
Restorative justice policies and programs are part of a comprehensive response to chronic problems in the criminal justice system.
UN Basic Principles on Restorative Justice
From 1995-2002, the Centre worked with members of the UN NGO Alliance on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice to bring restorative justice to the attention of the United Nations. As part of that effort, the Centre led a working group that drafted and advocated for the UN Declaration of Basic Principles on the Use of Restorative Justice Programmes in Criminal Matters. The Economic and Social Council adopted the Declaration of Basic Principles in 2002.
From 2001 -03, the Centre worked with Prison Fellowship Rwanda to prepare prisoners accused of genocide to meet their victims, survivors, and community members during that country's Gacacahearings. Together we developed the Umuvumu Tree Project, trained local facilitators and implemented the project in Rwanda's genocide prisons and communities. Nine months later, the number of prisoners willing to confess and participate in Gacaca had increased from 5,000 to 40,000. Today, PF Rwanda manages seven "reconciliation villages" in which perpetrators, survivors, and returned exiles live together in peace.
The Centre and Prison Fellowship Colombia conducted the first national symposium on restorative justice for justice system officials in 2003. This led to further interventions: Centre staff testified before Parliamentary committees, addressed the Colombian Senate, and provided training to prosecutors and judges on UN guidelines for using restorative justice. Prison Fellowship Colombia has pioneered use of the Sycamore Tree Project® in cases of homicide and adapted it further to facilitate implementation of peace agreements with paramilitary and guerrilla groups.