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The Unnamed – Lecco Group of Restorative Justice
Organisation : Associazione Comunità Il Gabbiano odv , Italy

The Unnamed aims to promote and implement a new vision of justice in the town of Lecco, i.e. restorative justice, conceived as ‘a way of thinking or practices focused on the care of people, of relations and of social communities, which are struggling with the pain produced by crimes, illegal facts or wrongdoing and which are in need of repairing the damage, reconstructing mutual trust and recomposing conflicts in order to heal people’s wounds and fractures in social relations and to prevent damaging behaviours.’ (Patrizi, 2019, p.17). The Group is based on and promotes citizens’ engagement in community justice processes.

Agendas addressed
HousingSocial inclusion and integration
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
Context
The picture presents a Restorative Justice Dialogue involving the members of the Unnamed

With 48,058 inhabitants, Lecco is the capital town of the province of Lecco. Once a rich industrial town, it has undergone a deep restructuring of the economic fabric, having a service-based economy nowadays. Once with the economic crisis, Lecco has been characterised by an increased reduction in job opportunities (-0.7% of employees in 2020 compared to 2019), which has triggered not only citizens’ material impoverishment, but also increased fractures in social relationships, higher levels of solitude, psychological distress and a crisis of values (Territorial Social Plan, 2018). Often, this has resulted into social conflicts and crimes (Patrizi, 2017). In 2020, Lecco ranked 50 out of 106 Italian provinces by number of registered charges/population (i.e. 3117.3, https://lab24.ilsole24ore.com/indice-della-criminalita/indexT.php).  As pointed out by the municipality of Lecco, social conflicts have further increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the domestic context, creating ‘explosive’ situations and requiring further policy actions to manage them (https://www.lecconews.news/lecco-citta/conflitti-familiari-a-lecco-e-attivo-lo-sportello-anche-con-la-pandemia-298822/#.YQHA8o4zY2w).

In Action

The municipal Assessor to family policies underlines that ‘If correctly managed, conflict represents a personal development opportunity as it questions a situation that creates suffering, often in an unconscious manner. Processing it correctly, each of us has the possibility to solve a situation that generates suffering and to obtain an optimal life condition. However too often conflicts are dealt with in an aggressive way, creating explosive situations.’ (https://www.lecconews.news/lecco-citta/conflitti-familiari-a-lecco-e-attivo-lo-sportello-anche-con-la-pandemia-298822/#.YQHA8o4zY2w). The municipal Assessor to social policies points out that ‘the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how much individual suffering impacts on the entire collectivity and the need for mutual responsibility and solidarity to deal with it’ (https://primalecco.it/attualita/piazza-dellinnominato-lecco-si-rivela-citta-della-giustizia-riparativa). Moreover, the president of Gabbiano Association underlines that ‘often isolating wrongdoers from the community is considered the main solution to deal with conflicts/crimes, while in reality their exclusion triggers a reiteration of conflicts/crimes, with social and economic costs for the community.’ Thus, since several years the Municipality of Lecco has been focusing on recomposing social fractures through innovative solutions, such as restorative justice, including, but moving beyond mediation services. The municipality does it by partnering with civil society within the Unnamed – Lecco Restorative Justice Group created in 2012 within the responsibility of a management board of 5 organisations, among which also Gabbiano Association (https://www.comune.lecco.it/index.php/archivio-news/23-news-dal-comune/10157-per-la-giustizia-riparativa; https://www.csvlombardia.it/lecco/post/rete-legalita-e-giustizia-riparativa/), by activating specific mediation services (Territorial Social Plan 2018-2020).  

The creation of the Unnamed draws on Christie’s assumption that ‘conflicts, when handled safely and respectfully, have the potential of strengthening communities, empowering victims, clarifying behavioral norms, and reintegrating offenders’ (Tali, 2016, p.291) and that communities have a key role in their management.

The Unnamed unites public institutions, civil society organisations and ordinary citizens in dealing with social suffering, conflicts and crimes through increasing awareness on restorative justice (e.g. restorative justice initiatives in schools, animation of public spaces – Piccola square – through restorative initiatives like the Human Library involving wrongdoers, victims and the community), intercepting social suffering and conflicts before turning into a crime and participating in restorative initiatives (e.g. RestoCovid Circle - circles involving citizens in facilitated dialogues on the suffering brought about by COVID-19, Restorative Corners animated by citizens in public places, Restorative Oriented Groups (GOR)  - i.e. dialogues with citizens, victims and perpetrators). Participation in the Group is voluntarily and is accompanied by specific trainings. Participants are involved in the definition of the Group mission and agenda and in the design and delivery of restorative initiatives.

Results

Since 2012, the Unnamed met 60 times, engaging 100 persons, of whom 55% civil society representatives, 25% public institutions representative and 20% citizens. Since 2012, the Unnamed has implemented 16 restorative justice initiatives: e.g. 63 awareness raising and training laboratories targeted to schools, engaging 467 students; 5 RestoCovid circles involving 70 citizens; 20 GOR meetings engaging 33 wrongdoers, victims and community members; a Human library engaging 80 citizens; restorative justice dissemination in La Piccola square, involving 170 citizens. Since 2019, the Unnamed has become a member of the Working Group on Restorative Cities of the European Forum for Restorative Justice. These outputs contributed to several results: strengthened relations between the Unnamed members and generation of 5 new projects; increased collective knowledge and competences on restorative conflict management; strengthened awareness on the role and potentialities of the community in justice processes and increased participants’ engagement in community justice; development of new solutions to deal with social conflicts; increased care for the collective ‘us’ instead of ‘me’; increased responsibility and social esteem of all parties of a conflict/crime; restored relations between involved offenders, victims and citizens: ‘this experience helps you to understand that when you commit a crime you hurt people’; ‘I realized that often during our busy lives we fail to see a hidden world made of suffering, loneliness, sometimes rage and disappointment’; ‘I did not feel that social detachment we all feel at times when something far from us happens and we think somebody else will deal it’; ‘I used to think that an offender would never regret his actions, would never feel the pain that us victims feel, but I was wrong. These certainties have been completely turned upside down. (…) it has been a journey full of emotions that I would recommend to any victim’ (participants in GORs).

Impact

The expected local impacts consist in the creation of a restorative community in Lecco, i.e. a community based on feelings of care for each other, mutual responsibility, understanding, support, cohesion, active listening to everyone’s truth and empathy and on dealing with conflicts in a peaceful and constructive way. In turn, this is expected to reduce levels of social tensions/crimes. In restorative justice the concept of community is used in an extensive way including not only citizens, public and private actors, but also the environment. Creating a restorative community is thus expected to enhance also care for the environment at large. However, the creation of a restorative community is a long-term and incremental process (Marsh, 2017).

The intermediary outcomes obtained by the Unnamed (e.g. increased awareness of the pain produced by conflicts/crimes not only to victims, but also to the community; increased responsibility of citizens in dealing with social conflicts even when not directly engaged; increased acknowledgment of the everyone’s truth; feeling welcomed and not judged for one’s past as offender or victim; caring for offenders engaged in restorative dialogues even after the end of the dialogue) point out that the restorative initiatives are planting the seeds of the restorative community: ‘We have to find a mediation, right now we are heading towards a clash; restoring or even using methods of resilience where everyone with his/her individual needs knows that he/she has to take a step back that (…) for the wellbeing of the wider community.’; ‘The opportunity to tell each other and listen to each other’s experience has enabled the elaboration and the co-construction of a shared truth (…).’

To understand the impacts of the Unnamed a participatory evaluation is foreseen, engaging some members of the Group in video focus groups and interviews with participants in the initiatives.

Challenges and lessons learned

The main challenges are:

  • Cultural shift in approaching conflicts: from a polarizing way (nowadays) to a positive learning experience (in restorative communities);
  • Length of restorative processes due to the need for personal changes versus a societal need for quick solutions
  • Engaging people in community justice processes (in restorative communities) versus an understanding of justice as a process delegated to institutions
  • Continuous financing to ensure the achievement of impacts.

The most relevant lesson learnt is to adopt a participatory governance approach since the beginning, actively engaging the representatives of all the components of the community.

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Contact

ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
European Secretariat

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79098 Freiburg
Germany

Tel.: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 0
Fax: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 19

E-mail: info@sustainablecities.eu
Website: www.sustainablecities.eu

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