Italy: Transforming the Juvenile Justice System
by Valentina Dolara
In 2010 the Head of the Juvenile Justice System for Central Italy asked me to offer training courses for the personnel of detention centres. What I proposed is inspired and based on Essential Education and the 16 Guidelines in particular.
Before 2010 I had worked only once in an adult prison here in Florence, a few years ago: I offered a course on nonviolent communication to a group of long-term inmates preparing for their release. It addressed a group of 15 to 20 men with prison sentences exceeding ten years. I met them once a week for three quarters of an hour over a period of one month.
I was surprised by how successful these workshops turned out to be. I was especially surprised that the guided visualizations I used in every meeting ended up being the most powerful tools in the prisoners’ experience. It was very pleasing, of course!
The idea underlying my proposal to the Juvenile Justice System is that if we really want to honour the re-education purpose of the penal system and work for a safer society then we have to work to transform those who can’t envision a positive future for themselves. We have to propose positive role models; they must be surrounded by individuals who believe in their positive potential. If we want them to be less violent and destructive, the people around them have to embody that idea. Normally in prison we expect individuals to change for the better, but conditions remain very similar to the criminal environments they come from.
That's why I preferred to start working with the staff, asking to share a common reflection with the entire structure: starting to build what I call a common "semantic ground".
In practice, I piloted a course called Transforming conflicts into solutions, which was offered to the entire staff: police agents, educators, social assistants and administrative staff. This was part of a general module on conflict management: identifying a conflict, its roots, its mechanisms, etc. More specifically, I introduced a component on how we know reality, how the way we label reality affects the way we behave and relate to others, how everyone in the justice system has the potential to represent a positive model for the minors in prison. In this way I introduced the Four Wisdom Themes and the use of mindfulness techniques.
The course has been well received. I’ve been asked to produce a proposal specifically for educators to be used only with the inmates. This will be on the 16 Guidelines specifically.
I've also replicated the course also for the administrative structure of the Ministry of Justice overseeing the various detention centres. This resulted in a request to have a scheme of practice for the principles and techniques explained, with periodic feedback meetings. That’s what I’ll be doing in the coming months. It is beginning to take on a life of its own!