South America Embraces Restorative Justice

.        by Aimee Caruso & Jennifer Lapidus

.         When Marty Price boarded the plane to Argentina, it was in fulfillment of a promise made eight years earlier. After participating in Price's workshop on restorative justice at the 1998 Conference of the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution (now the Association for Conflict Resolution) Argentine Supreme Court Justices Elena Highton and Gladys Stella Alvarez, told Price, "We're going to get you to Argentina one of these days." Alvarez and Highton kept their word and in early 2006, the U.S. State Department contacted Price to tell him he'd been invited to Argentina for a two-week speaking tour.

The tour, "Restorative Justice: Practices and Pitfalls--How to Make it Work," was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State's Democracy and Human Rights International Information Program. Price's mission was to educate workers in the Argentine criminal justice system about restorative justice. When the Chilean Ministry of Justice received news of the speaking tour through its U.S Embassy, they requested that Price extend his visit to include Chile as well.

 Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is a relatively new approach to addressing crime. Unlike other, more punitive models, restorative justice views crime as a violation of human relationships, rather than the breaking of laws. In this paradigm, crimes are committed against victims and communities, not against a government. Advocates of restorative justice believe offenders require opportunities to redeem themselves, in their own eyes and in the eyes of the community. Without the chance to 'make good', proponents argue, the offenders, their next victims, and the community will all pay a heavy price; recidivism rates are markedly higher for offenders who do not participate in such programs.

In 1999, Price became nationally and internationally recognized for his groundbreaking work with Victim Offender Reconciliation in crimes of severe violence, a facet of restorative justice where after months of intense preparation, crime victims and offenders engage in a face-to-face discussion. That year, ABC broadcast a 20/20 special chronicling his work with the family of Elaine Myers, a young woman killed by a drunk driver, and Susana Cooper, the driver. **The video has since aired in countries across the world, including Argentina, where it helped fuel the restorative justice movement.

 Reaching Out: A Community with Many Hands

To prepare for his trip, Price reached out to his colleagues. A pioneer in the restorative justice field with twenty-five years of experience, Price could provide the requisite knowledge expertise, yet he envisioned the trip as an opportunity for the restorative justice movement in North America to share resources and lend support to its fledgling sister movement in South America.

"I didn't want it to be just me. I saw that it could be so much more than that." Price invited colleagues from across the United States to participate in a conference call. The response was tremendous. Fifteen people participated in the call; some shared Spanish language materials, while others translated English documents into Spanish. Price connected with restorative justice professionals who had worked in South America, and with Chileans and Argentines engaged in the development of restorative justice services in their countries.

Legislating Change

The timing of the trip was no accident. In Argentina three provinces had recently passed legislation requiring victim offender mediation in certain kinds of cases and to make it available in other cases. Chile had passed similar legislation. In response, both countries began teaching mediation skills to workers in their criminal justice systems. The enormous publicity generated by Price's tour captured the public's attention and raised awareness of the new legislation and its implications.

Getting the Message Out

This two-week tour was a whirlwind. On a typical day, Price made three presentations attended by audiences of a hundred or more. Price's audiences included Ministers of Justice, Supreme Court Justices, judges, mediators, corrections officials, national and regional prosecutors, and professors of law and related fields. Through video conferences, he interacted with hundreds of workers legal professionals across the country. When he was not making presentations or videoconferencing, there were press conferences. Lots of them. By the time his tour ended, virtually every decision-maker in the countries' criminal justice systems had heard Price's message.

Restorative Justice in South America

The move toward restorative justice in South America is part of the burgeoning reform movement called "Justice Undergoing Change: Civil Society, Lawyers and Judges; A Project in Administration of Justice"-- that originated in December 2000. Although the paradigms and process of restorative justice in the US might be useful models, Price predicts that cultural differences between North and South America will cause restorative justice to look very different in countries like Argentina and Chile.

"In the US, we have a context for community participation in our justice system--the jury system, while in countries that have never had a jury system, criminal justice has been completely delegated to professionals."  Criminal justice professionals in South America expressed concern over how to meet the challenge of involving people in community justice, when they had no history of such involvement.

Price believes the first step is to interest the community in becoming part of the justice system. "People need to know that they are welcome and wanted and there are essential roles for community members in the justice system, where they never existed before."

 Since then...

Price has been back to Argentina four times since his initial trip. In 2007, he returned as a Fulbright Senior Specialist where he spent six weeks as a Visiting Professor in the PhD program at the John F. Kennedy University of Argentina School of Law. He also traveled to Tierra del Fuego to attend the International Restorative Justice Conference as a speaker and trainer to an audience of lawyers and mediators from half a dozen Latin American countries and half a dozen Argentine provinces. For Price's third return to Argentina, he gave a forty-hour intensive training in victim offender mediation to a group of twenty experienced mediators from a family services agency that works with neglected and abused children from troubled families. Additionally, he traveled with co-trainer Lyra Monroe, to meet with the Families of the Disappeared and with a group of women who are part of an organization committed to empowering women who are in or who have been in families of serious domestic violence. Most recently, Price traveled to Parana, in the Province of Entre Rios, to speak and train at the Second International Restorative Justice Conference in Argentina.

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