Restoring through dialogue: at USI, a course for the reintegration of convicted individuals 


Institutional Communication Service

30 August 2022

The second edition of the course on restorative justice, "Narrare, dialogare, (ri)costruire" was held in collaboration between the Law Institute (IDUSI), the USI Institute of Argumentation, Linguistics and Semiotics (IALS) and the Canton's Office of Rehabilitative Assistance. A dozen people involved in various crimes attended. The course focuses on managing conflict situations and is part of the activities of reintegration into society carried out by the Canton's Office of Rehabilitative Assistance. In the end, the participants receive a USI continuing education certificate.

The course was held from 22 to 24 August at USI West Campus in Lugano. It is based on the idea that collaborative communication and dialogue can be effective tools for managing conflict without resorting to physical or verbal violence while also helping to overcome the social fracture created after a conflict. In the words of Annamaria Astrologo, professor of law at the Faculty of Economics, and Sara Greco, professor of argumentation at the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society: it is a situation common to all, but for someone who has been convicted of a crime, it takes on a very different magnitude. "It is a very intense course also from an emotional point of view," professor Greco explained, underscoring how collaborative communication does not exclude emotions but considers them an essential part of building dialogue. 

Also, for this reason, the course opened with a workshop held by Stefano Tardini and Branislava Trifkovic of USI eLab Service, which through the LEGO® Serious Play® method, specially adapted to deal with situations of conflict and dialogue, helped the group to deal with the topic by overcoming internal differences and initial mistrust. "Many people don't know each other, and there are people of various ages and levels of education," professor Greco explained. "We don't know in advance what crimes they have been convicted of or even what regime they are in at that moment, although during the discussions, the information ends up emerging because people talk about themselves," she added. 

The goal of the course, as mentioned, is not only to understand how to deal nonviolently with conflict situations but also how argumentative dialogue can have a restorative function: words hurt, but they can also heal, and it is precisely in this area that the research conducted by the Institute of Argumentation, Linguistics and Semiotics meets that of the Institute of Law. Indeed, working on conflict leads to restorative justice, which, professor Astrologo explained, complements traditional criminal justice by engaging, rather than on the guilt of the perpetrator of the unwanted conduct, in the fracture caused by the crime. "This affects both the victim, whose questions often go unanswered in the criminal process, and the offender who can become aware of what he or she has done. Restorative justice wants to make sure that both parties, both victims and perpetrators, can benefit from a safe space for dialogue." 

This process is an essential part of the path to reintegrating convicted offenders into society. Former director of the Office of Rehabilitative Assistance Luisella De Martini-Foglia, current Head of Service Marlene Masino, and former Attorney General Bruno Balestra also participated in the course. "We don't always think about it, but a prison sentence is first and foremost about being isolated. Once you reach the end of detention, getting back to relationships with others and family members can be difficult. "The course, which we decided to hold here at USI since last year thanks to the support of the rectorate, is in this a 'life moment,'" professor Astrologo explained. "Argumentative dialogue is a space for discussion not only in a metaphorical sense but also in a physical sense, and here, for example, by eating together in the cafeteria, we have the opportunity to build a place of encounter," professor Greco pointed out. As mentioned, the one held recently was the second edition of the course. "Some decided to participate following the advice of those who had already done the course: last year, a very positive dynamic was created, and several participants asked for permits to follow other activities we organised during the year on conflict and restorative justice," professor Astrologo concluded.