Petra Masopust-Šachová

Lawyer, Researcher, Academic, and Chairperson, The Institute Of Restorative Justice

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Working in the Czech Republic and beyond, Petra is championing a shift in the criminal justice paradigm towards restorative justice, which centers on healing and empathy, taps agency, enables restitution, and brings deeper resolution for victims, offenders, and society than punishment alone. Her approach engages judges, prosecutors and other professionals connected to the criminal justice system to experience restorative justice firsthand and commit to implementing it in their practice. She is building a broad ecosystem capable of shifting mindsets towards a restorative approach and getting traction on a policy level nationally and internationally. 

Petra Masopust Šachová


At a time when the Czech Republic has the sixth highest incarceration rate in Europe as well as a sharply rising recidivism rate, attorney, legal scholar, and advocate Petra Masopust-Šachová is championing an alternative, empathetic paradigm of “restorative justice” as a path to deeper resolution for victims and offenders alike.

Criminal justice in the country is primarily concerned with how the law has been broken, and with finding and punishing the offender. Yet it can result in double victimization, where victims’ trauma from the crime gets compounded by the complexity and coldness of the justice system. It also prioritizes harsh sentences for offenders that rarely consider their circumstances and have little impact on reducing crime.

Petra and the Restorative Justice Institute—which she chairs—work to build a new culture of justice, moving away from authoritative, top-down decision-making to a more participatory and empathetic approach.

Restorative justice shifts the focus from punishment to healing. This approach allows victims, their families, and offenders to engage with the legal process in a more empowering way. Restorative programs create a safe space for them to meet, where victims can voice their experiences and how they feel the damage should be repaired while receiving support to heal from trauma.

Mariana Ruenes – Trafficking survivors are involved at each step of Mariana’s process as consultants who validate materials, provide feedback, and help map the realities of trafficking.
Petra Masopust Šachová

“One of the main impulses for the development of restorative justice is the effort to help victims of crimes to repair the harm caused, to ensure their rights and needs, and to create a space to talk about how they feel and what they experience,” Petra says.

These spaces not only offer victims a chance to have a say in deciding how the case is resolved, but they also restore offenders’ agency. Instead of relegating them to passive recipients of sentencing, they are given an opportunity to understand the pain they caused, to take responsibility, and to plan how they will make amends and set a pathway for recovery. In this way, restorative justice enables closure for victims and offenders in ways that punishment does not, and is more likely to prevent recidivism.

Petra does not promote a specific process. Rather, she creates consensus for restorative justice by changing the role of judges, attorneys, and other professionals in the justice system from gatekeepers or remote authority figures to accessible, engaged partners working with victims and offenders through open dialogue.

To achieve this, she involves them in experiential training where they use restorative techniques to identify shortcomings in the current system and what actions they can take from their position. Professionals can therefore immediately implement this approach in the cases they handle instead of waiting for legislative fiats, or relegating restorative justice to the fringes of the system.

Petra champions the application of restorative justice across the board – – for serious crimes as well as less serious ones. She empowers victims, offenders, and professionals to embrace their power as changemakers, transforming the criminal justice system from within, one case at a time, which in turn is creating an impetus for change at the national policy level.

Petra Masopust Šachová
Petra Masopust Šachová


The incarceration rate in the Czech Republic is 200 per 100,000 inhabitants – – twice as many as is common in the European Union. Recidivism is also high: more than 60% of prisoners were already in prison at least once for other crimes.

Past attempts to reform the Czech justice system focused primarily on increasing the speed and efficiency of case resolution, but that is not necessarily a reliable metric of justice for victims and offenders. Instead, a tendency towards harsher sentencing has significantly increased the prison population, adding stress to an already burdened system and increasing costs to the public.

Restorative justice was introduced in the Czech Republic two decades ago through special programs in the Czech Probation and Mediation Services, a unit within the Ministry of Justice created in 2001. However, the reach of those programs was limited. They were applied only marginally, for less serious crimes, so they had no impact on the bulk of criminal cases or on the system as a whole. Current efforts are mostly fragmented projects led by non-profits that have little influence either. Also, restorative justice processes are often perceived as lengthy and slow, which makes legal professionals think twice before using them.

For Petra, the current system is a reflection of Czechia’s totalitarian past. “There is a strong pattern of obedience to authority, not only in the criminal justice system, but also in education, healthcare, and other institutions,” she says. “That’s a relic of the old regime, where people weren’t treated as active participants. They were expected to listen to those in power who decided for them.”

Today Czech democracy is well-established and advancing. But to build a truly democratic society, citizens need the power and tools to participate in decision-making and help steer how key institutions develop, including the criminal justice system. Recent surveys suggest that there is fertile ground for this change in mindset: even those who support a harsher, top-down approach to criminal justice were shown to be more open to participatory, “benevolent” alternatives when they are well explained.


Petra has advocated and implemented restorative justice techniques throughout her 15-year career working in the citizen sector, practicing as a trial lawyer, and teaching in law schools. In 2018, she founded the Restorative Justice Institute (RJI) to consolidate the work and provide support for other organizations to adopt restorative programs. Her strategy for accelerating uptake is four-pronged: working with criminal justice and related professionals, creating practical tools for applying restorative principles to criminal proceedings, supporting other organizations to develop their own restorative programs, and public education to shift attitudes towards a less punitive, more participatory idea of justice.

Petra engages law students and legal scholars, including by establishing restorative justice as a course of study in the Czech Republic’s two top law schools. Her book, Restorative Approaches to Resolve Crime, was published in 2019. RJI creates public-facing content explaining restorative justice such as videos, interviews, conferences, and even a picture book for children.

But the core of Petra’s strategy is activating professionals in the legal system- – judges, lawyers, law professors, legislators, police and parole officers, correctional officers and social workers – – to adopt a new mindset that advances restorative justice.

Petra and RJI design and deliver “restorative circle” training workshops for these professionals, where they experience the restorative approach firsthand rather than reading or hearing lectures about it. Petra is highly intentional about mapping the key stakeholders and inviting participants who have far-reaching influence, so they are in a position to spread what they learned widely and benefit thousands of people. Petra has engaged over 200 participants so far, nearly a third being high-ranking leaders and officials.

The workshops are intended to model what it feels like to go through the restorative justice process itself. Participants are engaged on an emotional level, creating a setting where they can examine and express their own motivations and feelings, where all voices are heard with empathy, and where they can engage in purposeful dialogue. Together, they identify shortcomings in the system, brainstorm how restorative practices might help, and identify concrete actions they can commit to applying in their own work. These conversations reinforce practitioners’ sense of agency and purpose by making them recognize that even small changes in their practice can help improve the system. Some judges have committed to speaking differently to victims and families in the courtroom: intentionally asking them about their experience, what they felt or what they would consider helpful for the offender to do in order to repair the damage done.

After getting a taste of what restorative justice looks and feels like in practice, circle participants are inspired to actively promote it. Many go on to host restorative circles at their workplaces and design their own programs. And as participants adopt restorative techniques, they often create templates for others to follow. For example, one judge found creative ways to schedule restorative sessions with victims and offenders so as not to slow his overall case resolution rate. His experience was written up as a case study and shared with other restorative circles. In another case, a high-ranking Prison Services official carried out a national survey of Czechia’s prisons, which Petra helped design, in order to raise awareness of and gauge openness to restorative techniques. Of the counselors, guards, and others who work with inmates surveyed, a majority said they would welcome integrating restorative programs into their work.

Petra Masopust Šachová – Petra and RJI design “restorative circle” training workshops intended to model what it feels like to go through the restorative justice process. Afterwards, circle participants are inspired to host their own restorative circles.
Petra Masopust Šachová – Petra and RJI design “restorative circle” training workshops intended to model what it feels like to go through the restorative justice process. Afterwards, circle participants are inspired to host their own restorative circles.

What emerges from the circle discussions guides other parts of the strategy. For example, circle participants said they felt the need for practical ideas and examples of how restorative justice techniques might apply to their own work, so Petra and her team made it a priority to supply them. They created materials with case studies and practical advice for legal professionals, assembled into the forthcoming Restorative Justice Handbook.

Circle participants also flagged that the standard performance metrics for lawyers and judges, which are how many cases they can resolve and the speed with which they are decided, create a disincentive to spend time on restorative justice techniques. So Petra and her team worked with them to create new performance metrics that are more conducive to restorative approaches, which will be included in proposals for national reforms. These take into account how victims of crime feel during and after the judicial process and how offenders are involved in creating a plan for redemption.

Petra emphasizes that advancing restorative justice is not about establishing more alternative programs; it’s about fundamentally shifting the justice system itself. “Restorative justice is not only about programs, but about the procedure of all law enforcement agencies,” she says. “It’s about what you’re going to ask at the hearing, whether you’re going to allow the matter to be dealt with as part of a diversion and whether you’re going to support mediation.”

Learnings from restorative circles involving high-ranking judges, prosecutors, police officials, and the Czech Bar Association have been incorporated into a “restorative platform,” a national strategy for shifting the justice system and criminal proceedings in the direction of restorative justice. The platform has been submitted to the Ministry of Justice, and Petra and her team are working with the Ministry, Members of Parliament, and academics to incorporate key features of it into the Czech Republic’s forthcoming Code of Criminal Procedure (the existing Code dates from 1961, created under Soviet rule, and its revision is long overdue).

Petra Masopust Šachová
Petra Masopust Šachová

Petra Masopust Šachová is the founder and president of the Institute for Restorative Justice. Her strategy of restorative justice for Czechia was reflected in the program statement of the new government. She considers the strategy a success, and says over time people will be able to imagine something concrete behind the concept of restorative justice. “It’s moving forward,” she said. “I’ve managed to establish a dialogue.” - INFO.CZ

Beyond the circles, RJI works to foster a wider ecosystem of organizations that can institutionalize and spread restorative justice themselves. For example, it helps entities including Probation and Mediation Services, the Police Academy, the Justice Academy, the Society for Criminology, and other civil society organizations, find funding and other resources for promoting restorative practices.

“Past restorative justice efforts have been disconnected from the core of the justice system and have had limited impact,” Petra said. “Probation and Mediation Services have had restorative justice programs for 20 years. But we are now offering more than just programs; we’re offering a broader approach that changes mindsets. We are shifting professional thinking in the criminal justice field about which procedural steps to apply, how to work with victims and offenders, accountability, sanctioning, and what to do besides to sending people to prison or community service. It’s a systemic shift that is questioning and changing the stated goals of the criminal justice system.”

Demand for RJI’s help is growing, including from Slovakia and other neighboring countries, and Petra is working to accelerate the uptake of restorative justice approaches internationally. She serves on the board of the European Forum for Restorative Justice, coordinating its working group on Gender-Based Violence and Restorative Justice, and she is the national coordinator of Restorative Justice: Strategies for Change, which works with 10 core countries to promote restorative approaches in Europe’s criminal justice systems.

The presidency of the European Union rotates, and currently, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala is at the helm. In the latter part of 2022, the EU is revising its Victims’ Directive, establishing standards for the rights, protection, and support of victims of crime. In collaboration with another Ashoka Fellow, Dagmar Doubravová, Petra has advocated prioritizing restorative justice in this process, which the Czech government has pledged to do. “We are bringing to Europe Czech knowledge about how to implement restorative justice here, which is kind of unique,” says Petra. “We are meeting with the Ministry of Justice on how the Czech EU presidency can support the revision of the Victims' Directive to include restorative justice. This could potentially affect all of Europe.”

The Person

The law runs in Petra’s family – her mother and grandmother were lawyers. She grew up around sophisticated discussions about justice and the causes of criminal behavior. Her uncle, Pavel Štern, together with Andrea Matoušková, founded Probation and Mediation Services in the 1990s, which introduced restorative justice programs into the Czech Republic. He described it as “a world without lawyers,” where communities came together to support victims and restore the social fabric that crime tears.

Inspired by this upbringing, Petra explored restorative principles early in her journey. Her passion was truly ignited after studying with American criminologist Howard Zehr, known as the “grandfather of restorative justice.” She participated in a restorative circle with other law students that enabled her to develop deep relationships and connect with her purpose to change the criminal justice system. This experience showed her the power of “learning by doing” to galvanize support for implementing a restorative approach.

Later, Petra launched several initiatives to test restorative practices in her work as a professor, an attorney with civil society organizations, and then as a trial lawyer. Despite their meaningful impact, she became frustrated by the lack of influence on the wider system. Restorative justice, she felt, needed to be more than a collection of isolated, localized efforts; it needed to be understood and promoted as a fundamental, new paradigm for criminal justice.

Petra launched the Restorative Justice Institute to focus on building toward this large-scale transformation. Her cross-sector background and experience in facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogue have allowed her to mobilize a diverse spectrum of actors to advance her cause.

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