The concept of taking crime survivors into prisons or parole centres to meet with offenders to dialogue about the effects of crime appears radical, but at its heart, it’s about building relationships and restorative justice is the outcome.
The Sycamore Tree Project (STP) first started in 1995 under the auspices of Prison Fellowship International. In Queensland, it has been operational since 2011 and is steadily growing.
STP seeks to increase empathy on the part of offenders by giving crime survivors an opportunity to explain the effects of crime on their lives. It also encourages offenders to take responsibility for their offending. It is a faith-based, restorative justice program where crime survivors in Queensland visit unrelated offenders over a period of 8 weeks to discuss crime and its ongoing effect on crime survivors, who are given a platform to describe their pain, fear, and loss.
Offenders are encouraged to share their stories, to accept responsibility for their crime and to consider ways in which they might make restitution to their particular victims. STP includes large and small group discussions, crime survivor/offender interactions, role-plays and tangible demonstrations of taking responsibility aided by experienced facilitators.
STP studies report increased empathy of offenders and a willingness to change offending behaviour. Crime survivors report being given a ‘voice’ with steps towards peace and healing.