The need exists nationally and internationally for those affected by crime to be given the opportunity to become directly involved in responding to crime. The restorative justice approach brings together the offender, victim, families, and the community in looking for ways to make things right again after an offence has occurred.

This project facilitates the mediation process between victims of crime and offenders in an attempt to bring about restitution and reparation. This will be done by means of awareness raising, recruiting and training volunteers to council victims, offenders, and their families. The volunteers will mediate between victims and offenders.

The Sycamore Tree Project is about victims and offenders together on a journey of discovering the Biblical principles of Responsibility, Confession, Repentance, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation. Having found common ground in understanding, agreement is reached on an act of symbolic restitution by the offenders and concludes with the victims and offenders celebrating together the healing and restoration achieved.


Project Name:             Sycamore Tree Project

Project Goal:                Restoration and Healing
Facilitating the mediation process between victims of crime and offenders in an attempt to bring about restoration, healing, and reconciliation.

Project Locations:        Correctional Centres and the Community
The project is aimed at facilitating victim / offender conferencing and as such can be presented, either inside prison, or within the local community.

Project Background:    A project focusing on Restorative Justice
In response to the challenge to address the needs of crime victims, Prison Fellowship International (PFI) decided to develop a program that would bring small groups of victim volunteers into prisons to meet with small groups of prisoners to talk about their experiences with crime.  The victims and offenders are not related (that is, the victims are not the particular victims of those offenders).

Studies in North America and Europe have suggested that this kind of meeting can be useful for both victims and offenders. PFI convened an international design team to explore how such a program might be constructed and to oversee development of the curriculum.  This was a task the team took seriously, as you can imagine, since the issues and group dynamics generated in these meetings could be quite powerful.  The result is the Sycamore Tree Project®

The name comes from the Biblical account of the corrupt tax collector named Zacchaeus who climbed a sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus as he walked through Jericho. He had no idea that Jesus would invite himself to Zacchaeus' home for a meal that night. As a direct result of that meeting, Zacchaeus was a changed man. The evidence of the change was obvious to the community as he paid back four times the amount he had stolen from the local taxpayers. He also gave away half his wealth to the poor.

Project Outcomes       
The Sycamore Tree Project focuses on the following outcomes: -

  • To give the victims, offenders, and affected members of the community the opportunity to be directly involved in responding to crime.
  • To make offenders accountable and provide opportunities for them to make things right as much as possible.
  • To have a well-trained core of counsellors and mediators which will council and mediate between victims, offenders, and families to bring about reconciliation and healing.

Project Objectives
The Sycamore Tree Project is an in-prison restorative justice programme bringing together unrelated groups of victims and offenders to explore issues related to crime and to bring about reconciliation and healing.

Project Beneficiaries and Benefits






By means of mediation the victim can receive healing and restoration.



The offender is reconciled and reintegrated into the community



The families receive restoration and healing.




Community / Society

1. Possible drop in crime rate and reduction in the offender's re-offending.
2. Creates acceptance of the offender when he returns to the community.





1. Additional resource in addressing crime through a Restorative Justice
2. Possible reduction in overcrowding and recidivism.
3. Community involvement in the rehabilitation of offenders.
4. Partnership effort in crime-care, and a more involved private sector



Although restorative justice is less than 20 years old, its influence has spread around the world at a remarkable speed. We can track international development in two basic categories: innovation by countries in their use of restorative justice, and integration by countries of restorative ideas into their systems.

Restorative Justice Programmes are taking place inside prisons in Europe, North America, Canada, Latin America, New Zealand and Belgium, and many other countries.

The UN and Restorative Justice
The UN has taken increasing note of restorative justice. Following are some recent actions:
  • The Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims and Abuse of Power, adopted by General Assembly in 1985, called for restitution to victims, their families and dependants.

The Guiding Principles for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in the Context of Development and the New International Economic Order, adopted by the General Assembly in 1990.

  • In Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, adopted in 1990.

In Children as Victims and Perpetrators of Crime and the United Nations Criminal Justice Programme: From Standards Setting Towards Implementation and Action, adopted in 1995.

  • The Ninth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, in Recommendations on the Four Substantive Topics of the Ninth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, urged States of develop alternative dispute resolution mechanism in order to lower the level of violence in society.

In Guidelines for Cooperation and Technical Assistance in the Field of Urban Crime Prevention, adopted in 1995, the Economic and Social Council called for use of mediation  as a means of reducing recidivism.

  • In Development and Implementation of Mediation and Restorative Justice Measures in Criminal Justice, adopted in 1999.

International Applications of the Sycamore Tree Programme
The Sycamore Tree Project is currently run in: -

Australia,              Cayman Islands,            Colombia,          Costa Rica,                   England,
Hong Kong,         Hungary,                              Kenya,              Korea,                           Netherlands,
New Zealand,     Northern Ireland,             Panama,           Philippines,                   Rwanda,
Scotland,             South Africa,                      USA and           Wales,
The most fascinating use of the Sycamore Tree Programme within the African continent is in the facilitation of the reconciliation process between the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda

Impact on the Community
The Sycamore Tree Project empowers the community to respond to crime by identifying and taking steps to repair harm caused by criminal behaviour. Emphasis is placed on involving all stakeholders in the process of rehabilitation and restoration, and results in the transformation of the traditional relationship between the community and government in responding to crime

Impact on Victims
Victims are empowered through being given an opportunity to talk about and reflect on the offence committed against them and its results. They are able become more fully informed about crime, offenders, and restorative justice. They explore Biblical concepts of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation, "tell their story" to convicted prisoners, and hear prisoners recognize that what they did was wrong. In many cases, this has helped victims to experience closure and peace, and even to experience salvation or Christian growth.

Impact on Prisoners
Prisoners are given the chance - often for the first time - to understand the results of crime on victims and the community, to agree to take responsibility for their actions, and to begin making amends by taking part in an act of symbolic restitution. They do this as a result of exploring Biblical concepts of confession, repentance, forgiveness, restitution and reconciliation related to specific criminal acts. As with victims, many prisoners have experienced salvation or Christian growth as a result of the project.

The Practical Implications
The project is short-term, intense and one that requires careful preparation. Prison Fellowship trains, and equips volunteers to facilitate group discussions and recruit the victims and prisoners.  However, we need authorisation from the prison authorities to come into the prison to conduct the programme, and to bring victims and facilitators into the prison.  In addition, we need a room or other place in which to carry on the discussions.

Victims and offenders meet for eight 2-hour sessions, usually over a period of 8 weeks.  Using a tested discussion guide, the facilitator leads the group through a series of topics leading naturally to a time in which both victims and offenders can share letters and covenants which express how they feel and how they wish to move forward. Offenders are invited to explore ways of making restitution for the harm caused by their criminal behaviour. Victims are given the opportunity to consider ways in which they can take control of their lives and begin their journey toward healing and restoration.  Finally, the group meets in public celebration and worship.

The programme includes large and small group discussions, victim/offender panels, role-plays and readings that create a contemporary retelling of the Biblical Zacchaeus account. The programme is based on biblical principles and it uses stories and truths from the Bible as a starting point.  The people presenting the programme are followers of Jesus Christ, but there is no requirement that participants be Christian, so long as they are willing to be involved in a programme with that foundation. Obviously participation is strictly voluntary for both inmates and crime victims.

When the project has ended, the commitment of the participants has as well. Of course, they may want to explore the possibility of further meetings with other victims or offenders perhaps even their own.  But there is no requirement to do this.