Sycamore Tree Project
The Sycamore Tree Project brings together unrelated victims and offenders. Using a curriculum guide prepared by PFI, a facilitator leads the participants in conversations about subjects related to crime and justice.
The program can have profound effects on the victims and offenders. Many victims have reported receiving a measure of healing. Offenders confront, many times for the first time, the harm their actions have had on other people. Studies have shown that offenders who go through the Sycamore Tree Project have significant changes in attitudes that make it less likely they will re-offend once released.
The Sycamore Tree Project is an intensive 5–8-week in-prison program that brings groups of crime victims into prison to meet with groups of unrelated offenders. They talk about the effects of crime, the harms it causes, and how to make things right. Using a tested discussion guide, a trained facilitator opens up conversations about responsibility, confession, repentance, forgiveness, amends, and reconciliation. These lead naturally into opportunities for the participants to express their experiences and feelings. Offenders explore ways of making restitution for the harm caused by their criminal behavior. Victims consider ways they can continue their journey toward healing and restoration. Finally, the group meets in a public celebration.
Evaluations of Sycamore Tree Project show that it works. Sheffield Hallam University has conducted two large-scale studies in England, measuring changes in the attitudes of prisoners after participating in the program. The studies focused on five areas shown to be related to repeat offending: general attitudes toward offending, anticipation of re-offending, denial of victim harm, evaluation of crime as worthwhile, and perception of current life problems. The study found:
- Significant improvements in victim empathy for prisoner participants.
- Strong evidence of statistically significant changes in attitudes to offending attributable to participation in Sycamore Tree Project.
- Evidence that the program changed attitudes in ways known to reduce the likelihood of offending behavior.
This was true regardless of the prisoners’ sex, age, or kind of penal institution. Because of the large sample size (5,000 prisoners), the researchers attributed the change to their participation in Sycamore Tree Project and not to some other intervening factor.