Restorative Justice was, is and will remain quite a controversial area, with opponents and proponents articulating their evidence and findings on its practices and outcomes. I believe that no matter where you stand, there will be moments when you doubt your own beliefs. Especially for restorative justice proponents, like myself, this doubt is inherent in our longstanding efforts to reshuffle the cards, make some space for restorative justice within the conventional criminal justice system and persuade policymakers, criminal justice professionals and the general audience that it is worth it. It is this constant game of evidence collection and ongoing debate that led me to posing this question to myself; “Is it worth it?”. 

My two days in Cascina Castellazzo in the province of Varese in Lombardy provided me with the answer I was looking for to put on hold my doubts at least for the time being.  

Restorative Justice for Restorative Communities Project 

Restorative justice has gradually made its way into the European debate. Many European countries, within their own borders, have made interesting steps forward, however the situation is still patchy. Along the way, it became evident that the approach to restorative justice, can be understood as a process not only judicial, but also civil and social. This means that the application of these same practices is closely connected to the work of organizations of civil society. It is them who need to prevent restorative justice from slipping through the cracks of simply paper-initiatives but make Europe a pioneer in bringing life to restorative justice.   

Building on this, the aim of the Restorative Justice for Restorative Communities (RJRC) project is to increase knowledge and enhance the use of best practices in the field of restorative justice, especially within communities which strive to survive. The consortium has recognised that restorative justice has the potential to serve as a tool for not just improving individual-focused restorative practices, but also for fostering the growth of more resilient communities.  

“Undoubtedly, the driving force of our work is the realisation that justice would never make it to its full potential if we left behind those most in need, even at the moment of wrongdoing.” 

The Preparatory Visit to Cascina Castellazzo 

The project involves 6 organisations from across Europe, who will be involved in a 5-day Professional Development Activity that will take place the third week of January 2023 in Italy at the Municipality of Casale Litta (Province of Varese). Ahead of this Professional Development Activity, on 19-20th of October 2023, the consortium met for the first time in person in a preparatory meeting to set the ground and initiate the discussions around our work.  

Structured around a two-days meeting, the Preparatory Visit brought together professionals of all sorts of backgrounds. The entire two-days meeting was hosted by 4Exodus in Cascina Castellazzo, a fact that, I must admit, levelled up the entire meeting as we got to see theory into practice and experience ourselves the transformation and restorative pathway of 20 males facing alternative sentencing to prison. 

The Venue 

Cascina Castellazzo is a rehabilitation community that provides support to roughly 20 individuals, adult males, who are facing challenges related to drug addiction, alcohol dependence, and alternative sentencing to prison. This community is dedicated and committed to facilitating personal growth, restoring relationships, and promoting autonomy in the lives of its residents; the “guests” as they tend to call them in order to accommodate the warmth they try to secure for the community. At the core of Cascina Castellazzo is a multidisciplinary team, working diligently to guide residents through their recovery journey. The focus extends beyond breaking free from addiction to repairing and strengthening personal connections and bonds that may have been strained due to substance abuse.  

Living for two days within their community, sharing meals and warm chats with everyone, I can definitely admit that restorative work done there has brought a lot of transformation. The guests are involved in meaningful work experience, productive activities and skill-building towards an effort to accept the past but shift the focus to the future, regaining their self-esteem and finding a sense of purpose. Going around the community, we were welcomed to their common areas, the dining room as well at the central table under the big “bell”. Whenever the bell rings, everyone gathers around the table for some engagement and bonding.   

The Agenda 

This vibrant community opened its doors for our meeting, which kicked off with an extremely insightful presentation from an Italian probation officer in charge of the community’s progress and a Criminal Law PhD candidate. The presentation revolved around the recently introduced law for restorative justice in Italy which led to a round of questions and comparisons between the different jurisdictions. While exploring the implementation of the law so far, we also had the chance to revert to community contexts and the application of restorative justice in bottom-up approaches. It was fascinating to delve into different approaches implemented by each organisation and drill down through different definitions of restorative justice. Apparently, even when restorative justice is not fully regulated by law, it can still find its place amongst community practices, and rehabilitation and healing processes. Community work was seen as tangible evidence of the implicit recognition of restorative justice and its contribution to the criminal justice system as a whole. It is our role to move the discussions further and offer restorative justice its deserved official recognition. 

Moving forward, the afternoon session included an engrossing brainstorming and a long debate on what is missing to our organisations and countries for an effective Restorative Justice. Using a flipchart, we noted down our thoughts and needs about the future of restorative justice, which can be seen in the table below. 

Once we discussed and painted the broader picture of our needs, we grouped our needs into three categories:  

  1. Preparing the ground 
  1. Developing and exploring the concept of RJ 
  1. Improving the practices 

Those three areas of development became the driving force for the next session – our Codesign laboratory! Knowing the needs, we were able to imagine which is the future of restorative justice we are envisioning in our countries and organisations, and which should be the role of the community in it.  

Amongst others, we focused on potential effective ways to communicate restorative justice with criminal justice professionals as well as approaches to make restorative justice more accessible to civil society. As agreed, it is important for restorative justice “to be seen to be done”! Given our common area of work with young people, we did not miss the chance to highlight the work at schools and the necessity to shift our focus to young people as a source of change. Moving on from that, our centre of attention was re-established. It is the right time to focus on empowerment; empowerment of victims, offenders and the community through restorative justice. 

The Preparatory Visit, which apart from the sessions was accompanied also by a museum visit and some free time of networking, was wrapped up with eyes on building the upcoming 5-day Professional Development Activity in January 2024. We shared our expectations and the potential we see for this consortium, and we all agreed that the upcoming mobility should be practice-oriented. Additionally, as a European consortium, we did not leave outside the scope of our discussions the much-discussed Victims’ Rights Directive as well the role of the Istanbul Convention in the regulation of restorative justice in cases of gender-based, domestic violence and sexual offences.  

Such a fruitful meeting with a lot of knowledge-sharing could not conclude without a debriefing activity with everyone’s take-aways. Bottom line, all involved professionals acknowledged the tremendous work done in the Cascina Castellazzo Community and their enthusiasm for everything that is coming next. In the course of the following months, the consortium is going to build upon everything discussed during this meeting to formulate the Professional Development Activity.  

Concluding remarks 

These 2 days were a reminder of my work and our holistic vision at RJ4All. The meeting marked the exciting beginning of something truly remarkable. It is evident that the discussions and collaborations that have taken place have set the stage for a future filled with promise and opportunity. The enthusiasm, dedication, and innovative ideas shared here have ignited a spark that will undoubtedly lead to great achievements in the days, months, and years ahead. 

Further Resources

Our Founder & Director, Dr. Theo Gavrielides, has written extensively on the topic of Victims Rights Directive.

Gavrielides, T. (2015). “The Victims’ Directive and What Victims Want from Restorative Justice”, Victims and Offenders Journal, Vol: 10. Issue 2. pages 1-22. DOI 10.1080/15564886.2014.982778 

Gavrielides, T. (2016). “Repositioning Restorative Justice in Europe: The Victims’ Directive”, Victims & Offenders Vol. 11, Iss. 1, pp. 71-86 

Gavrielides, T. (2019) Safeguarding and Empowering Crime Victims: Training manual: Restorative justice and the Victims’ Directive, London: RJ4All Publications. ISBN: 978-1-911634-09-6. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.10019.12327 

Gavrielides, T. (2017). “Collapsing the labels “victim” and “offender” in the Victims’ Directive & the paradox of Restorative Justice”. International Journal of Restorative Justice, Volume 5, Special Issue 3: Reimagining victims and restorative justice: the European Union, Canada and beyond, p. 368-381 

Gavrielides, T. (2014), A victim-led criminal justice system for Europe: Addressing the paradox,  IARS Publications: London. ISBN 978-1-907641-27-5. 

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