What is Sycamore Tree Project - Prison Fellowship Switzerland - Restorative Justice

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What is Sycamore Tree Project

Sycamore Tree Project

Download a brochure on Sycamore Tree Project in French, here/ici.

Background of the programme

The Sycamore Tree Project® is an internationally recognized programmme by Prison Fellowship International. Its history dates back to 1995, when the executive director of PFI Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, Daniel Van Ness, a recognized international expert on Restorative Justice, started to design a programmme whereby victims of crime would meet with unrelated serving prisoners to consider the various issues arising for both sides from the relevant offences. He met with other PFI members from around the world for the final development of the programmme. The first course was run in 1998 and then was quickly taken up in New Zealand and United Kingdom. There has now been over ten years of experience and in both countries the programme is administered under government contracts.  Many thousands of prisoners have undertaken the course in these countries. It has been adapted to the realities of many other cultures and contexts and is being run in over 30 countries now, and the number is still growing.

Its name

The Sycamore Tree Project®  has its name from the story of Zacchaeus, which appears in the Bible in Luke 19. He was a crooked tax collector who had heard Jesus was coming to his town and, due to his small size, climbed on a sycamore fig tree to get a better view of Jesus. Jesus noticed him, showed that he cared about him, and went with Zacchaeus to eat with him. The community was upset, they were victims of Zacchaeus crimes, suffering already for a long time. The meeting, though, changed Zacchaeus life and as a demonstration of his transformation he agreed to pay back four times what he had stolen and give half of his possessions to the poor. Zacchaeus became a lively example of Restorative Justice in ancient times.  

The aim

The programme aims at fostering healing and restoration for all participants and a greater understanding and acknowledgment of the effects of crime, promoting reconciliation and restoration as an integral part of justice.

How it works

The Sycamore Tree course usually runs in-prison for 8 weeks, divided in 8 sessions of 2 hours each. During the course a group of prisoners are challenged to consider, together with unrelated victims of crime, the impact their crimes have had on their victims and society. The course is led by Prison Fellowship staff or trained volunteers and chaplains. The final session ends in a celebration with invited guests. Prisoners have the opportunity to make symbolic acts of restitution often in the form of poems, home-made gifts, and sometimes a song written for the occasion.

During their 8 meetings the participants consider what crime is, the impact it has on the lives of everyone affected, what it means to accept responsibility for our actions, how shame and guilt affect our lives, what forgiveness is and who benefits from it, how to make amends and put things right, and what it takes for reconciliation to happen.

Who benefits and how

Prisoners often for the first time in their lives gain a deeper understanding of the effects of crime and its impact on the lives of victims, but also their own families and society. They experience concern also for their needs, are encouraged and supported to take active steps in accepting their responsibility, make amends, and plan their future. They are treated with respect and dignity.

Victims are given a voice to express their suffering, painful story, and true needs and desires around the crime they have suffered. They help offenders on their pathway to change and as such contribute in important ways towards crime prevention. At the same time they are cared for and receive as much support as needed on their own pathway towards healing and restoration.

Communities can become part of this programme as they join it either as victims or facilitators. They benefit as the programme aims at reducing recidivism and works towards building peace and safer communities.

In-Prison Collaboration

The prison chaplaincies and the prison administrations collaborate actively with Prison Fellowship national associations where the Sycamore Tree Project® is implemented. Prison Fellowship Switzerland is currently discussing with Swiss Prison Chaplains the possibilities to implement a pilot project.

Sycamore Tree Project®  is protected for use by members of the Prison Fellowship International Association only

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