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The end of 2016 was tense and exciting period in Colombia. For the first time in the longest running armed conflict of the world, a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the guerrilla of Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) was about to become real. Colombians were asked to vote to ratify the final agreement to end the crud violence, but the ratification failed with 50.2% voting against it. It seemed surprising that a country that had suffered 60 years of violence would not vote to stop the war. The agreement was eventually signed, but within a society deeply divided between those who think forgiveness is possible and those who distrust the path.

Within that context In 2017, seeking to support alternative forms of justice, Bogota’s District Secretariat for Security, Coexistence and Justice joined the United Nations Office Against Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to implement the first Restorative Justice (RJ) program for youth in the capital. It was born as an offshoot of the Colombian peace-deal that at is core was based on the RJ concept.

The implementation of this alternative form of justice needed to go hand in hand with a reflection of the kind of spaces that should be devoted to the development of new practices. If we are to rethink justice the typology of the prison seems obsolete, and this project needs to explore a shift to no longer talk about punishing offenders by imprisoning and isolating them, and rather look for spaces where active education, forgiveness, and reconciliation dynamics can take place.

Then the main question this project aimed to answer is: how can we conceive spaces for restorative justice?

Behind the Wall: a wall for dialogue, is an architectural artifact designed to support dynamics of restorative justice. Through a transformable wall that can be opened and used in different ways, it seeks to build a public point of encounter. RJ practices have usually ignored their commitment to the community and society.

This project seeks to engage Bogotá’s population with the dynamics of Restorative Justice while generating awareness of the urgency of finding alternative ways to think about what justice means. That is to say, this project aims to call attention to problems related to incarceration, to the benefits of forgiving in a society like Colombia, to disseminate and generate empathy with the processes of Restorative Justice in a social context where revenge and punishment have become the rule and to become a prototype able to be replicable in the country and abroad. As a transportable artifact through the public space, Behind the Wall is a communicating tool by itself and its main target is Bogotá’s citizens.

The construction process of this project ended in March 2020. The Wall was fully built and tested. Its mechanic and operative systems worked perfectly and it was ready to be used. On a starting tryout horizontal, together with UNODS and the District’s secretary of justice developed the first activity in the headquarters of the program. This workshop showed the first engagement of the users and phyco-social workers with the device.

The experience was very inspiring and left a lot of learning point to start implementing the planned program, but also to start creating new ways of using this artefact to bring RJ dynamics to the public space. Unfortunately, the global pandemic we are living in today caused by the virus COVID-19 put on hold the inclusion of “the wall” on the everyday dynamics of the program. We are still expecting to soon have the right environment to fully use the device together with victims, offenders, their communities, and most importantly, to engage through restorative dynamics with Bogota’s citizens.

This project was made possible with kind support from The Graham Foundation

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