At the Crossroads of Restorative Justice Developments in Estonia

by Teresa Schepis and Bálint Juhász

Many of us will soon come together in Tallinn for the the largest event of the EFRJ, its conference organised every second year. This edition is hosted and co-organised by our partners from Estonia, and in the past months there have been many people working on the preparations of the conference behind the scenes. The efforts of the local organising team from Tallinn have been essential in the preparation process. Without their enthusiasm, dedication and care the conference couldn’t take shape. Get to know some of them!


What is this article about? 

  • You can learn the background of some of the key local organisers, and how they became deeply engaged with restorative justice. 
  • You will get an impression about the restorative justice landscape in Estonia.
  • What are the possibilities for the advancement of using restorative justice in Estonia?
  • And what are the expectations of the local organisers about the EFRJ’s conference taking place in their capital very soon?

Annegrete, Stanislav and Joel

“For the last five years and more, restorative justice has been all around me.” - says Annegrete Johanson, who is amazed about the fact how at restorative justice became such a big part of her life and enriched it in many ways. She is one of the key persons behind the event in Tallinn, connecting all of the local partners and the EFRJ. 

She has been working with young people at risk for over 19 years. At the beginning of her professional career she started in a closed institution for children. Later she founded RuaCrew, an NGO supporting young people and their families. Their aim is to prevent and respond to social conflicts involving them and youth delinquency. The organisation adopted a restorative mindset, and promotes restorative justice through its activities. 

Annegrete Johanson

Annegrete has been working with RuaCrew for 15 years. Since 2018, she has been involved in development and implementation of restorative justice, setting up services within a public institution, the Victim Support Department of the Social Insurance Board. The possibility for developments has been largely dependent on available project funding. Annegrete has been involved in the coordination of a number of projects linking Estonia and international professional networks.

Annegrete was instrumental in the Social Insurance Board submitting an application to host the conference in Tallinn, responding to the call of the EFRJ.  “I remember so well when Edit informed me that our application had been selected. I was speechless”.

Annegrete works with young people most of the times in long-term programmes, setting up regular meetings throughout the year, or summer camps, which she has been organising for the the last ten years. A few of the young participants will be contributing to conference as volunteers, and participants can listen to their stories on one of the field trips. Since beginning of this year, Annegrete dedicates more time to delivering restorative justice trainings, empowering different institutions who have participated in the training and facilitating restorative approaches.

Stanislav Solodov

Stanislav Solodov and Joel Markus Antson both work at the Criminal Policy Department of the Estonian Ministry of Justice, one of the official local co-organisers of the conference. 

Stanislav, at an earlier stage in his career, worked as a prison officer for several years. It was during this period that a number of fundamental justice-related concerns became so prominent in his professional life. Today, he is a team leader within the Ministry coordinating projects that aim reintegration, prevention, and reducing reoffending rates. Restorative justice is a fundamental component of this programme. He firmly believes that it can result in positive outcomes, and finds that restorative justice strongly aligns with the goals he has ever been pursuing: giving people chance to repair harm and to make progress their lives. 

The department of the Ministry engages in programmes that advance their goals. In the last month they have just completed a nine-year-long project that supported follow-up services for former prisoners after their release. And they have recently started a new one, aimed at reducing the recidivism rates among young offenders (up to 29 years old). There are five people working in Stanislav’s team, including Joel.

Joel Markus Antson

Working on the advancement of restorative justice is the responsibility of Joel in the Ministry’s recently started project. He is passionate about restorative justice alike. He sees how the wider use of it can have great impact in their work, and can bring them closer to their aims. Joel considers the values of restorative justice close to his personal values and he loves that he can work for something that he can identify so well with. He also likes to work in his team, and appreciates how all of them bring different skills and areas of competences to the work, and the way they support each other in their goals. 

The Ministry supports the organisation of the conference in multiple ways. Besides contributing to its content with ideas, and connecting the event with the local professional network, they also provide practical support, and will host the EFRJ events on the days preceding the conference. The Board meeting, the pre-conference training, and the Annual General Meeting will take place in the building of the Ministry. 

It was important for the Ministry that the local professional community can benefit from joining the event, and that is why they contributed also financially to the participation of 50 Estonian experts in the conference. What do they expect from their attendance at the conference?  I hope this will help the local professionals better understand why we are talking so much about restorative justice, and what we are trying to do with restorative justice at the ministry.

Restorative Justice in Estonia

Joel and Stanislav explains that restorative justice was introduced in Estonia for the first time by a handful of prison chaplains 15 years ago. Simultaneously, mediation became available through victim support services. It is important to note, that at the time, the detention system was struggling with numerous challenges, partly inherited from times when the country was a part of the Soviet Union. These had to be faced before restorative justice progress became a real possibility. 

A second stage of restorative justice development was enabled in 2019, by a project funded by the ‘Norway Grants’, which strived to set up a restorative justice volunteers’ system. This project — coordinated by the Social Insurance Board — enabled a more systemic innovation. It set up a framework of extensive training and coordinating the work of restorative justice facilitators. The project was based on the recognition that “we should not put children into closed institutions, but use alternatives to prevent reoffending”, as Stanislav explains. It concentrated on children and young people, and offered restorative services delivered by trained volunteers. 

During the years 2020-2023 almost 150 volunteer conflict mediators have been trained, and a training model has been established with a group of professionals who can offer training. They have followed courses by various professionals across Europe, including specialised trainings organised by the EFRJ, such as the Summer Schools or the Winter Academies. 

When Annegrete started to work at the Social Insurance Board, it was one of her responsibilities work out the model for training restorative justice volunteers and how they will start to work. She realised that they didn’t have any trainers in Estonia with practical experience. So when she took part in the EFRJ’s Summer School in Gdańsk in 2019, and met Dr Belinda Hopkins, she knew that her model could be useful for Estonia because it is simple and structured. “By today we have adapted the model of training for us and our context.” tells Annegrete.

Annegrete and Stanislav both work as volunteer mediators and trainers. Free time is increasingly becoming a scarcity in Stanislav’s life, as coordinating tasks at Ministry leave less and less room for doing voluntary work. “The last time I took on a new case a year ago, that tells a lot.

In the past two years facilitators started to get specialised in working with cases of domestic violence as well. This is a new area in which restorative justice became available in Estonia recently. Using restorative justice responses as a relatively prevalent response to intimate partner violence and domestic violence cases distinguishes Estonia from most of the European countries. 

Taking “Restorative Justice to a Next Level”

The past five years have led to substantial developments, yet, Annegrete, Joel and Stanislav all still see the road ahead for their country. 

Restorative justice practice cannot be only on voluntary basis”, — explains Stanislav — “and it cannot be provided only for children.

An important piece of legislation was adopted on the 1st of April 2023, and it was the first time ‘restorative justice’ appeared in the Estonia’s ‘Victim Support Act’ and in the ‘Criminal Proceedings Act’. The new law says that restorative justice should be available as an opportunity for the prosecutor as a measure to find a solution, regardless if there will be sentence or not. 

Until this becomes a common practice, there are still steps to be taken. On the hand, the team working at the Ministry is aware that they have to be prudent when promoting restorative justice. It is necessary to build up capacities in Estonia before they can make services systematically available to every victim and offender. On the other hand, in parallel with expanding the accessibility of restorative justice across the whole criminal justice system for all cases, they also strive to spread a restorative mindset within organisations. In their vision, it should become a culture that informs responding to conflicts and preventing them. 

Workshops, seminars, and a national conference attended by 150 professionals were organised recently for people working in prisons and the probation service. It is clear that there is an heightened interested and enthusiasm about restorative justice approaches in this sector, yet it is important to provide more information to advance the general understanding of restorative justice. 

Annegrete hopes that one day opportunity to access restorative justice will be there for everyone who needs it. It should not depend on the opinion of a specialist, or on the state providing it or not. It is a pleasure is to see that interest in restorative justice and training has also grown outside the social and legal system. “But we have long way to go.”

What Will Be the Impact of the Conference?

Annegrete, Stanislav, and Joel, as well as other local organisers await the conference eagerly. They see it as an inspiring opportunity for the wider professional network in Estonia. 

It is good to learn and see how restorative justice can be done so differently. Getting these perspectives helps me to create a clear picture of what we are aiming at.” says Joel. Stanislav found the EFRJ’s Summer School in 2023 on restorative justice and prisons an eye-opener. Some of the participants have stayed in touch since and several of them will come to Tallinn as well. He is happy that his Estonian colleagues as well as international participants will get the chance to create similar links with a wider network now. The event also provides an opportunity to learn from the local good practices in working for policy and practice developments. 

The theme of the conference - the potential of restorative justice in ‘dark times’ - has a special significance to the local community. As Joel puts it: “Restorative justice can often times remain focused on individuals and does not take into account the system that perpetuates harm.” He is excited to see how the topics of wider conflicts will be discussed at the conference.

Teresa Schepis worked as an EFRJ Communication and Event Organisation Intern between September 2023 - March 2024. She is an Assistant-Coordinator of the Child Friendly Justice European Network. 

Bálint Juhász is the Communication and Training Officer of the EFRJ. 


Published on 22 May 2024.