The traditional approach to criminal justice in Canada is to arrest, try and punish offenders with a slight eye towards hopefully sending a community message that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated. There is little attention paid to rehabilitating and reconciling the offender to the community, except in certain native Canadian justice venues.
There is a growing attention to the principles of native Canadian restorative justice to address the suggested inadequacies of the Canadian criminal justice system.
The key word is “restorative”. What does this mean?
The original goal of restorative justice was to restore harmony between victims and offenders. For victims, this meant restitution for tangible losses and emotional losses. For offenders, it meant taking responsibility, confronting shame and regaining dignity.
How do you protect society from those without consideration for other people?
According to James J.R. Guest, Law Clerk of the U.S. Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and author of “Aboriginal Theory and Restorative Justice”, the use of a restorative approach gives the offender the experiences of the victim. The building of connections between the actions of the offender and the consequences of their actions upon the victim, the victim’s family, the victimizer’s family, the community and all his/her relations is a necessary part of the learning process.
The intensification of an external legal code cannot reduce crime to the same extent that a self-policing moral code can.
“Personally, I believe that restorative justice works. That is, I believe that restorative justice—when done properly—promotes justice …” –
Former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada,
Irwin Cotler, November 19, 2005
Within the existing criminal justice system, there is no middle ground between guilty and not guilty. “I did it, but…” is not a plea but an admission of guilt carrying the full weight of the prescribed punishment. “I didn’t know…” is sure to receive a rebuke of “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” The existing criminal justice system is malignant and completely incapable to teaching without first inflicting harm.
It seems an oxymoron to state, “I sentence you to heal” and is reminiscent of an exorcist crying “I cast the devil out of you”.
In an analysis of restorative justice with participation from the Department of Justice and published in The Prison Journal in late 2005, the report suggested that, on average, restorative justice programs “yielded reductions in recidivism compared to non-restorative approaches top criminal behaviour … and that offenders in the (restorative justice) treatment groups were significantly more successful during the follow-up periods.”
In addition, the study stated that “offenders who participated in restorative justice programs tended to have substantially higher compliance rates than offenders exposed to other arrangements” in reference to restitution agreements.
The most common argument against restorative justice is that practices and outcomes vary with the particular program, and therefore fairness requires comparable crimes and criminals to be punished equally, and that responses to crime will be different and inconsistencies as long as restorative justice is not implemented system-wide.
Moreover, a serious anti-crime strategy must deal, first and foremost, with the root causes of crime — persistent poverty, lack of educational and employment opportunities, racial discrimination and social alienation.
Calls for “law and order” and the scapegoating of civil liberties are much easier than acting to ameliorate the conditions that foster crime, but such approaches will not make our society safer. As long as we are a society of haves and have-nots, we will continue to be plagued with crime, no matter how many police are deployed or how many new prisons are built.
This poverty to crime relationship is supported by empirical data in the United States.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) — an U.S. Justice Department survey of crime and victimization trends — the rate of reported violent crime for households for an income beneath $14,000 is 50 percent higher than that of higher income groups. From 2001-06, the $14,000 income group did not experience a decrease in crime and was the only group not to do so.
Mark Borkowski is president of Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corp. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Mercantile is a mid market mergers & acquisitions brokerage company based in Toronto.