Inge reflects on the need for restorative justice in our society
Inge Vanfraechem is the project manager of the ALTERNATIVE project. She is the driving force behind the partners. She also serves as the liaison between the partners and the European Commission, who is subsidising ALTERNATIVE. She has extensive experience in the matter of restorative justice. As the manager, she has more of an overview of the situation in the different countries.
A broader social debate
Project ALTERNATIVE is spread out over Europe, which causes unique challenges for Inge. ‘When a research project is done by Belgians, it is very easy to jump on a train and go to Ghent, or Namur. That is slightly more difficult with these distances. But it is a good drive to me.’
‘The biggest challenge for me is to get everybody to do everything against a deadline. I am however more and more getting the feeling that it is indeed one project, and that it is all coming together.’
The researchers are faced with distance and differences in language, yet there are other difficulties as well. ‘All of us have more or less the same background, in criminology, restorative justice or something related’, Inge says. ‘We have to learn how to detach ourselves from those labels. We have a certain way of seeing things, and we need to broaden that. For me, it is very important that we can use the empirical research to call into question our own referential framework. For example: in mediation, is it possible to detach ourselves from the us-them dynamic, which runs through the security discourse?’
What exactly are we doing?
The goal of the project is to see if it is possible to change the approach to security and justice through restorative justice. ‘There are enough links in literature and academia, but are we not sticking a little too much in our restorative justice world?’, Inge asks. ‘How can we reach out to the security businesses? Would they be interested in training on the possibilities of restorative justice?’ The project is a research project, but there is no harm in thinking outside the box. ‘Commercial and civil mediation are a booming business. That is not the case in criminal justice. Our project can be broader than just pertaining to criminal justice’, Inge explains. ‘The question remains, will only NGO’s, academics and other non-profit organisations use our work, or would we want to ‘sell’ our findings?’
Ignoring the actual problem
Restorative justice is applicable in our society and our day-to-day dealings with conflict. ‘I am not a fan of this punitive, controlling society’, Inge says. ‘We must find new ways of dealing with conflict. In kindergarten, for example, I do not see the use in just putting children in corners. We should talk to them, see what happened. There are schools that will not even join in Bully week (a campaign where schools can address bullying in the classroom, as a part of a greater policy around school bullying, red), they claim to have no bully-problem. To me, that is just sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the actual problem.’
Inge recognises that finding new ways to deal with conflict and implementing them is a long term commitment: ‘It will take time, and effort. But when media and research report that fourty percent of Belgian women between the ages of 16 and 25 feel depressed, then our society has a problem and we need to find better ways of communicating and entering into dialogue.’
‘These days, everything has to be faster, better, more efficient. We have this idea that when there is a problem, we look for the easiest solution, we tick the box and the problem is gone. If we look for an easy fix, the hardest cases, the most marginalised will be left out. I think our key word really is alternative. We need to find them. This means constantly searchinge for knowledge, experience and understanding.’