In the late 1990s, Brazilian judge Isabel Lima traveled to a conference in New Zealand to talk about her work with juvenile offenders. After her presentation, an audience member asked if Lima was using something called “restorative justice.” It was the first time she’d heard the term.
Conversations ensued, connections were made, and Lima flew back home with the feeling that something important had just happened. “It was a definitive moment,” she recalls. “I felt that restorative justice would be my path.”
It’s a path that eventually brought her to become a visiting scholar at CJP in spring 2017 and a participant at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute.
What first excited Lima about restorative justice was the way in which its principles aligned with the holistic, community-centered approach to the law that she’d been developing as a judge. This mindset was inspired by her long commitment to Catholic-affiliated human rights movements and her previous career as a nurse. The “top-down” way in which the law treated individual offenders and the broader community particularly bothered her.
Lima has kept working in restorative justice since her retirement, including a two-year period in Timor-Leste, where she helped draft the country’s first juvenile justice law. She has also been a professor at the Catholic University of Salvador in Bahia, Brazil, for 18 years.
Along the way, Lima grew to admire EMU’s leadership in the fields of restorative justice and peacebuilding, and visited the university’s Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice for a week in 2016.
While at CJP last spring and summer, Lima has been laying the groundwork for a week-long conference and retreat from Oct. 23-27. The 25 to 30 expected participants, representing Brazil’s legal system, academia and civil society, will meet with Zehr Institute co-directors Howard Zehr and Carl Stauffer, CJP professor Johonna Turner, and leaders of local organizations working with restorative justice.
Among Lima’s colleagues who plan to attend is Leoberto Brancher, a juvenile court judge in Caxias do Sul. Brancher plays a key role in the coordination of several public service centers dedicated to conflict resolution and prevention as well as community-building. Established in 2010, the program has been managed by the city government since 2014. The city also has peace commissions working in its jails, healthcare system and its most violent neighborhood, and a “peace volunteers” program that has trained nearly 1,000 people in the use of circle processes. Of those, nearly 100 have received additional training to become certified to resolve conflicts in their communities.
Brazil is “one of the most dynamic venues for restorative justice development these days,” says Zehr, who has been invited to lecture in Brazil several times. “We at CJP are honored to have been asked to further assist these exciting developments.”
Lima hopes to see a steering committee formed in the fall that can continue to coordinate collaboration between restorative justice practitioners in Brazil and CJP.
“We are very motivated and very committed to restorative justice,” Lima said. “At this event, we will be able to strategize together, learn from those at CJP who are really grounded in this work, and look forward to a sustainable future for this movement.”