The Phoenix Restorative Justice Programme, South Africa
Phoenix runs a programme of restorative projects/activities in the ten prisons of Zululand, South Africa. The programme has strong Quaker roots, and 3 board members are Quakers.
Phoenix is based on four principles.
- The serving offenders themselves are the key agents in their own rehabilitation
- Many useful inputs come from non-dominant members of society – often women, children, the elderly, victims…
- Listening to, and understanding, people’s stories, is much more effective than giving moral injunctions
Cooperation between civil society and the State
They see their work as a ‘curriculum of rehabilitation’. Through participation in a series of specific activities, participants develop relevant understanding, and skills.
The culmination of this work lies in ‘family conferences’, which build on the many specific activities that have gone before. The family conferences last for one day, often on Saturdays, and there are 30 or so of these each year. They bring together groups of prisoners and their families to work, share and celebrate together.
Some specific Phoenix activities/projects underpinning these family conferences are:
Starting with Us
This is an intensive life skills project run over 2 – 3 months encompassing a range techniques to promote self-esteem, conflict resolution needs and skills, and a focus on the many and varied tasks lying ahead in the lives of individuals and families after parole.
Conversations in Families
This follows on from other projects and specifically asks participants to focus on their responsibilities towards their families, and to decide how they will need support, and ask for it, after they leave prison. The project is integrated with Family Conferencing. In several hundred case histories, it is drawing whole families into the tasks of social reintegration. The project is seen by Phoenix as representing some of its most important work: it is developing an understanding of and a practical commitment to restorative justice as it sets out to orientate families to help offenders deal in hope with victims.
This is a project of environmental learning to awaken inherited knowledge of trees and plants and their value in society. It is in collaboration with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) at Qalakabusha Prison, Empangeni and also involves developing an indigenous tree nursery. The project asks: “What is it to be a fully rounded citizen?” Answers are sought in evoking participants’ inherited knowledge of trees and plants and a deep-seated environmental understanding.
Voice Beyond the Walls
This project has produced of a variety of radio dramas and programmes for community radio stations. They have a huge audience. This represents the prison communities (so far enacted in four prisons) “reaching beyond the walls”. Dramatic collectives tell their stories to the outside world in the form of polished and artistically developed plays and stories. In the experience of the Programme, this kind of activity has created some of the most successful learning and emotionally developmental contexts for offenders. Phone-in programmes at the radio stations are testimony to the substantial impact these narrations of crime and punishment have on audiences.
At any one time there are projects in up to six prisons. Over a typical year, about 1000 serving prisoners participate in these.
Phoenix depends on a network of skilled and experienced facilitators to implement its programme. There are usually about 25 people working as Facilitators on projects at any one time. The work is intensive - there are facilitators working in the prisons every day of the week for the duration of a project. In addition, reports are prepared for the many hundreds of individual participants, and these are valued and extensively used by the Parole Board.
Phoenix employs three categories of people as facilitators:
- Peer Facilitators (serving prisoners)
- Full-time Facilitators (ex-prisoners who have generally had experience as Peer Facilitators)
Community-based Facilitators who offer the time they have available and a considerable variety of skills.
Giving facilitating opportunities to current and former offenders, as in the first two categories, is in itself an important contribution to their own rehabilitation curriculum. It is reminiscent of the way that AVP programmes frequently operate, for similar reasons.
Facilitators use many approaches, one of which is art. Depicting experiences and ideas, and how these change, can be very powerful. One example of this can be found in the further reading below.