Lessons from South Africa: Seeking Restorative Justice in America’s Prison System

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2 minutes


Is healing and connection possible for incarcerated offenders and their victims? Hope Prison Ministry, a nonprofit organization based in Cape Town, South Africa, believes so. Their restorative justice program, Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD), brings offenders and their victims (or surviving family members) face-to-face in a safe setting with facilitators.

This innovative program is becoming more popular across the country. The South African government’s Department of Correctional Services recently approached the organization about expanding VOD to the national level.

The government is not the only one interested in Hope Prison Ministry’s aspirational work. Elizabeth Greeley heard the organization’s operations manager, Andrew May, speak about VOD in the U.S. Greeley approached him afterward to ask if they offer internships. She was eager to deepen her experience connecting individuals in seemingly irreconcilable situations. As an advocate for Jewish-Muslim-Christian discourse and Israel-Palestine peace for five years, Greeley knew the power of dialogue in forging connection.

Christianson Fellow Elizabeth Greeley heads to South Africa for a restorative justice project.
Christianson Fellow Elizabeth Greeley heads to South Africa for a restorative justice project.
Image courtesy of Elizabeth Greeley

“Through engaging in and facilitating dialogues, I witnessed how an open heart can overcome years of learned resentment and fear, and how genuine listening can alter ingrained certainty about the ‘rightness’ of one’s position to allow room for the other,” said Greeley.

With the support of the InterExchange Christianson Fellowship, Greeley will spend six months in Cape Town learning about restorative justice and systemizing a formal training program for facilitators who monitor and guide Hope Prison Ministry’s VODs.

The organization currently has a very informal training process, which is time-consuming, cost ineffective, and lacks comprehensive guidelines to gauge a new facilitator’s preparedness. Greeley will apply her facilitation and administration experience to transform the training into a formal course, helping trainees become effective facilitators.

Greeley’s goal is to become a prison psychologist and apply what she’s learned from her service project in South Africa to help rehabilitate offenders.

Nelson Mandela, founder of South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is perhaps most associated with the country’s rehabilitation.
Nelson Mandela, founder of South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is perhaps most associated with the country’s rehabilitation.
Image courtesy of South Africa The Good News via Wikimedia Commons.

“Being passionate about cultivating spaces for human connection—instead of turning to retribution, caging someone and then forgetting about them—I am excited to learn about South Africa’s apartheid history, implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and how the US can learn from their advanced correctional system.”


The Christianson Fellowship is awarded to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents between 18 and 28 who have independently arranged a service project abroad for at least six months. Selected fellows receive up to $10,000 in funding.

Ashley Lulling

After earning a M.A. in Diplomacy & International Relations and teaching English in South Korea, Ashley joined InterExchange to promote cross-cultural understanding and help others have amazing experiences abroad.

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