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Restorative Justice in Prison: It’s About Time

Don’t think restorative justice belongs in prison?  Think again. Some of the best in-prison restoraive justice programs are operating today whether you know it or not. Two great examples: the Sycamore Tree Project,  a model restorative justice program created by Dan Van Ness of Prison Fellowship International’s Centre for Justice and Reconciliation. Dan is sometimes referred to as the “father” of restorative justice with Howard Zehr called the “grandfather”.

Sycamore was first tested in Texas in 1998. I know because I was the director of the first pilot. Sycamore since that time has been replicated throughout the world (some 30 countries) with great success. Another excellent program is Bridges to Life located in Texas and directed by crime victim/survivor John Sage. Bridges is an organization that runs an in-prison  restorative justice program similar to Sycamore. In fact, Sage was one of the first victim participants of the Texas pilot in 1998. He was so enthused about Sycamore he created Bridges to Life now being used throughout the Texas prison system.

There are 4 comments. Add Yours.

John McDonald —

In Australia there is a RJ Program running RJ Conferences in the prison system. It is managed by Kate Milner at and Kate would be delighted to speak to people invovled in similar programs.

    lisarea —

    Great, John. Thank you. Can you give us more information here. What are the specifics? Is this with actual cases or using surrogate victim/offenders?

Lisa Marqua —

Thanks for this information. I have just been reading up on Bridges to LIfe and know about Sycamore Tree. Do you know of any recent research on restorative programmes or victim programmes in prison. I am about to embark on Masters research in South Africa, focusing on RJ in prison and perhaps reintegration later on. I have been involved in RJ in prison here for 7 years and more recently, victim awareness with young adults in prison. Any relevant readings would be great.

    lisarea —

    I’d suggest you go to PFI’s Centre for Justice & Reconciliation. ( Do a search there or email their staff. I am a blog correspondent for this NGO.I don’t immediately know of new research, per se. RJI is committed to supporting, and in time, funding evidence-based research to expand the amount of good research being done in this field. We then would like to see it disseminated far and wide, particularly to public policy makers and the public.