EVA MARSZEWSKI

Canada,

Through Peacebuilding Circles and mediation, and conflict management training, Eva Marszewski is equipping high-risk communities to preventing violence and other anti-social behaviors from being first addressed through the judicial system. Eva is thus averting future juvenile delinquency as well as empowering communities to cope with problems as they appear. She is engaging with the court system, police, and schools to entrench this user-friendly and highly preventative tool and is building ordinary citizens’ capacity to help youth in conflict grow into healthy, productive, civically-minded adults.

This profile below was prepared when Eva Marszewski was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.

Eva habilite des jeunes et des adultes pour aider d’autres personnes à guérir et à construire des relations saines en utilisant des cercles de Construction de Paix basés sur les valeurs et principes positifs de la résolution de conflit, la prise de décision collaborative et le développement communautaire. Inspirée par l’utilisation de cercles de guérison des communautés autochtones,  ses programmes inspirent une communication respectueuse, collective et la croissance personnelle tout en diminuant les comportements violents et perturbateurs. Le programme de Cercles de Réparation de la Jeunesse de Peacebuilders a reçu un espace de bureaux permanent dans le tribunal de jeunesse le plus achalandé du Canada dans le centre-ville de Toronto.

INTRODUCTION

Through Peacebuilding Circles and mediation, and conflict management training, Eva Marszewski is equipping high-risk communities to preventing violence and other anti-social behaviors from being first addressed through the judicial system. Eva is thus averting future juvenile delinquency as well as empowering communities to cope with problems as they appear. She is engaging with the court system, police, and schools to entrench this user-friendly and highly preventative tool and is building ordinary citizens’ capacity to help youth in conflict grow into healthy, productive, civically-minded adults.




THE NEW IDEA

Eva is shifting the decision-making power in the youth justice system away from the courts and into the hands of schools, community centers, and communities. She is engaging ordinary individuals to help others heal and change their behavior through Peacebuilding Circles, collective decision-making, conflict resolution, and other peacebuilding tools. Eva has developed tools that handle multi-party conflict, providing youth in the criminal justice system, and in other difficult situations, options and opportunities to fulfill their personal needs and offers them support from friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Eva is partnering with elementary schools, high schools, universities, COs, police centers, and the Canadian court system to teach the value of peace and conflict resolution, giving community members and organizations greater decision-making power in determining the course of action needed for youth in conflict.

Eva is helping communities develop conflict resolution competencies to give them the ability to handle and take ownership of their conflicts without immediately resorting to police or court interventions for troubled youth. Conflict resolution competency in effect de-escalates conflict situations as Eva’s methodology has the capacity to stabilize neighborhoods and communities to come up with creative and innovative local solutions to deal with diverse issues at the root of the conflict. Eva believes that sustainable personal change comes from within and is not brought about by coercion or shaming. Her approach reaches youth at a deeper level and motivates them to want to re-examine their values and principles, and align themselves to appropriate values by discarding behaviors that do not match up.




THE PROBLEM

There is a systemic struggle, both from the legal and civic communities, to build capacity for egalitarian, effective governance systems. This struggle and lack of community capacity in community conflict resolution competency forms a fertile ground for conflict escalation, leading to an increased involvement of children and youth in the criminal justice system.

Despite the increasing referral of youth to the justice system, about 45 percent of all youth charged with various criminal charges end up with the charges against them either withdrawn or stayed. Of the 55 percent that do proceed into the justice system, a smaller percentage of youth are sentenced to jail. The youth in conflict tend to be students who struggle under the weight of social, economic, health, and other challenges who are simply overwhelmed by their lack of personal resiliency and social skills. Poverty, lack of available/any parents, negative or oppressive peers, special needs, and health issues all challenge these youth. These issues are compounded by the systemic failure of governance systems institutions to operate with a coordinated and well thought out child and youth policy structure. Many youth are particularly challenged to make smart choices and fail to take advantage of educational opportunities.

About half of Ontario’s jail sentences for youth are less than 30 days in length, indicating that a lot of the youth that are imprisoned for such a short time frame have committed minor offenses. The issues range from established types of misbehavior such as theft and assault to newer challenges such as bullying, cyber-bullying, Facebook and social media abuses, as well as group/gang induced issues. Society is squandering costly and scarce policing and justice resources on children and youth that do not need to be in the justice system. There is a scarcity of conflict resolution training among professionals, such as teachers and school administrators, who are required to deal with a multitude of conflicts on a daily basis. Furthermore, existing conflict resolution tools are not very good at dealing with group issues.




THE STRATEGY

Eva founded Peacebuilders International in 2002, after being inspired by Aboriginal communities’ use of healing circles. Eva’s adapted Peacebuilding Circles are a deliberative process which has been consciously constructed to combine the structure of traditional circles, which include the use of a talking piece (i.e. but without their ceremonial or governance aspects), with a contemporary understanding of consensus-building processes. Eva’s approach has now been piloted, tested, and evaluated, and has received recognition, acceptance, and enthusiastic embrace by prosecution and defense officials, teachers, principals, police, and community members.

Eva’s Peacebuilding Circles encourages communal dialogue, and address the emotional, psychological, and societal causes and repercussions of youth conflict behavior. The Peacebuilders Circle program establishes an effective detour from existing harsh disciplinary and court proceedings. It enables a diverse group of civil agents such as youth, community members, consultants, and teachers to address, as peers to the youth in conflict, sensitive areas and topics of conflict and youth rebellion. To date 100 percent of Peacebuilder reports back to principals, police, judges, prosecution, probation, and defense counsels have been approved. Due to the success of Eva’s program, the court system has developed a strong partnership with Peacebuilders and has offered her a fixed office in Canada’s busiest youth courthouse. This court system is partnering with Eva’s vision to shift the cases from the court system to community resolution.

Peacebuilders selects volunteers from among high school and university students, graduates, law students, teachers, police agents, and citizen sector leaders. All are primarily caring individuals who understand youth and are willing to help them identify their challenges and strategies to move forward. Peacebuilders engages and trains their volunteers and seeks those who are representative of the communities in which they work. Currently, Eva has 12 trainers using the methodology, 100 trainees per year, and 50 circle facilitators.

Peacebuilders Circle process enables a group of participants to address difficult issues in a safe, contained, and monitored environment. Events and conflicts are deconstructed, examined piece by piece, challenges and underlying causes are identified, and plans are developed to address them over time under the guidance and mentorship of the Circle Group. Subgroups may also assemble under the overall direction of the trained Lead Circle Keeper or trained Circle Keepers. The Circle Group also follows-up on monitoring implementation and addressing further issues as they arise. On average, there are three Circle Keepers, two of whom are youth, with one professional consultant or mediator to provide guidance, direction, and support.

In order to scale the impact of the program, Eva envisions building neighborhood-based capacity to respond to and prevent conflict in a timely manner. Thus, youth and their families will be able to avail themselves of local resources to address their own pressing issues. They will be spared from having to attend youth court anywhere from 5 to 15 times prior to trial (i.e. the average in Toronto courts). Trainings for circle facilitators will become local. Longer term, given trained community partners, Peacebuilders will develop a community triage system so that community representatives and youth will be able to establish a circle to address local youth issues. Peacebuilders Youth Circles program intervenes at each of these three levels. The circle teams seek to identify and address root causes, if at all possible, including involving members from the business communities, health sciences, and other needed disciplines so that the plan for each youth enables them to move toward a healthier life in which they can thrive. They also examine the youth’s schooling situation and seek to place the youth into the most appropriate educational context available.

Eva has three distinct goals she is working toward through Peacebuilders. First, through her circle programs, and partnership with the Canadian legal system, she aims to reduce the number of arrests by reducing the number of cases going into the court system. As a result, highly skilled judges and legal officials can apply their skills to more serious cases that need more time and specialized attention. By partnering with community officers and engaging them in her peace and conflict resolution methodology, Eva will be able to impact the relationship between youth in conflict and community officers by tutoring officers on how to engage with and determine the appropriate course of action for youth facing potential mischief charges. Therefore, Eva is working toward creating a system where the police officer, who is the first avenue of response, is not immediately charging the youth but rather cautioning, warning, or sending the youth to a conflict-resolution program, breaking away from the community-triage-system.

Second, Eva is teaming with elementary schools, high schools, and universities in Toronto. Her goal is to enter into the university curriculum for law schools to have conflict resolution as a mandatory program. Eva is currently also training student-teachers to have the capacity to manage difference and conflicts in their classrooms, in effect, giving a better capacity to handle conflict and discipline in a multicultural and ethnically diverse society. She is also working with a conflict resolution masters program by building relationships with their graduates; who provide opportunities and open new communities for Peacebuilders to train people, while introducing their methodology on conflict resolution and management.




THE PERSON

Eva has always been passionate about social justice issues, and comes from a family of social activists. Her parents fought for Poland’s freedom; an experience that has shaped her family’s view of the importance of freedom of opportunity. Eva was raised during her formative years in Venezuela, and was exposed to the disparity between the rich and poor, which transformed her perceptions of what is and what can be.

For three decades Eva worked within and around the justice system. First as a civil litigator on family law cases as well as on a Public Commission of inquiry into certain activities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; as a labor arbitrator for matters involving labor unions and management; and then as a mediator of civil disputes in court cases in Toronto. Through these roles and responsibilities, Eva was able to observe many dysfunctional aspects of the justice system.

Eva has an awareness of the importance of human connection and the perils of disconnection; a temperament predisposed to mediate and help others solve their problems or come to terms with their differences.

Fifteen years ago, a retired judge from the Territorial Court of the Yukon invited Eva to be a part of an Aboriginal peacemaking circle in Haines Junction in the Yukon, where she saw the power of a diverse group of social agents come together to address the conflicting nature of a young male who had committed arson to a community member’s home. As they discussed the issue and learned about the young man, the community—through facilitated dialogue and traditional practice—were able to decide the appropriate means of action that would benefit both the youth and the man whose house was burnt, without resorting to a court sentence. This was a formative experience that led her to adapt the traditional practice, and later embed it in various social structures in Canada.