IWOC: Prisoners, Restorative and transformative justice
IWOC Ireland is involved in producing a series of writings from prisoners which continues here with a fellow prisoner reflecting on issues relating to restorative and transformative justice, rehabilitation and victims.
There can be no doubt that crime can do a serious amount of harm to it’s victims. I would not dream to, in anyway, lessen the impact felt by those who have been plagued by it. But in order to properly address the issue, a through exploration of it is necessary.
Crime is wide spread throughout our communities and it has been suggested that the majority of people will, at some point in there lives, commit a crime of some kind. Given that most crime is in fact victimless, most incidences go unreported or unprosecuted. The image presented to the public, however, is a more sensationalised account that offers up a small proportion of criminal acts (those that do create victims), the effect of which is to exaggerate the threat to people’s well-being and cause them unnecessary worry and stress.
Nevertheless we still must address the incidences that are harmful to people regardless of their relative frequency.
Imprisonment is offered as a supposed solution, whether through it's alleged penal and deterrent effects, or as a safe place where “rehabilitation” can occur. But prison merely punishes a minority of those who have harm, after that harm has already been done an feels to account for culture and economic inducements to certain behaviours.
Supporters of prison argue that it’s failings are due to inadequate implementation and not the model itself. Common to proposed fixes are more policing, longer sentences or harsher prison conditions.
The truth is that the police can do very little. The fact that those who engage in these acts of harm are mostly from poor working class backgrounds, have low levels of educational attainment and are raised in homes and communities besieged by violence, drug addiction and other socio-economic ills, means that the problem is way beyond the scope of any police force. More police will not help.
Equally harsher and longer imprisonment cannot address the same issue for the same reason.
So, what are our options?
Firstly, we must abandon a retributive approach. If we accept that external factors contribute massively to individuals becoming involved in harmful acts, we must then accept reduced culpability on there part. It would be like programming your phone to switch off at certain time each day and then blaming the device for doing so, it would not be fair to punish someone for doing something they in reality have little control over.
Our approach instead should be one of reconciliation, repairing damaged relationships and transforming individuals and communities to prevent the occurrence of harm.
A complete transformation of society, as well as our vision of that of economy and work, would provide a long-term mechanism to reduce harm done in the first place.
An Educational system that doesn’t allow individuals “to fall between the cracks” and empower them with the right skills and knowledge for a fulfilled life is essential.
Adequate services that help people address issues such as addiction and mental ill-health are also a must.
We need to end the discrimination against ex-prisoners in terms of employment and other opportunities, to allow people to rebuild their lives post incarnation.
Importantly we must also reserve the atomisation of society. Specifically people are being abandoned to spiralling lives that perpetrated all these problems. Instead we need to see a return to the old adage “it takes a village”. Support and the warmth of community can make a difference.
Of course, we also need a mechanism for dealing with harm done. The principles of restorative and transformative justice can act as a framework for locally specific solutions. Education around the principles will enable communities to develop their own approach to victim support, retribution and compensation where necessary. I am strongly of the view that this is the way forward.