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Restorative justice and the challenge of prison reform

Mar 25, 2011

from Brian Steels' recent paper:

Crucially, prisoners have to learn to accept responsibility for the harm their criminal activities have caused to individual victims, family and neighbourhood. This largely transformative component is implemented at the beginning of any given prison sentence and is maintained throughout the term of custody. 

....Wherever practical and possible, prisoners are made responsible for any financial compensation owed to victims. To this end, a restoration fund may be established and prisoners able to earn money in order to pay victim compensation. This encourages a degree of responsibility in prisoners whilst providing reparation for victims.

In the early stages of transforming towards a restorative prison, victims and community are provided with information about restorative justice practices and ‘the situation of imprisoned offenders and what is likely at the end of their sentences’. Victims of crime support groups are encouraged to participate throughout the introduction of restorative practices in prisons, beginning with an overview of the arrest of an offender, through the investigation process, the court process to incarceration in a restorative prison. For the restorative prison to operate effectively all of the restorative practices should be utilised in a culturally appropriate way, one that reflects the philosophy of reducing harm, generating goodwill and reflecting integrity.

Any such transformation requires clear vision and political fortitude from relevant Governments. Noting that the prison system does not serve either victims or the community effectively, especially during a ‘tough on crime’ or ‘zero tolerance’ debate can be political suicide. Whilst the media and Governments know that prisons are economically unaffordable, reproduce criminality and come with tremendous social costs, transforming them to become effective, transparent and displaying integrity requires courage.

The restorative and therapeutic prison model delivers a more effective and pro-social system, which satisfies most community concerns with regard to the workings of the complete criminal justice system. 

Citations omitted.

Read the whole paper.

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lisa rea
lisa rea says:
Mar 25, 2011 03:20 PM

Thank you for posting this. Brian Steels makes a good case here. Prison models that embrace restorative justice work. These models embrace offender accountability and restoring the victim, and community, as much as possible. <br /> <br />Around the world governments are assessing their failed prison policies and concluding that cutting edge models that incorporate restorative justice practices make sense and are cost effective. Such models do not ignore the needs of crime victims as the traditional justice system does. It's time to invest in restorative justice. It's smart on crime. <br /> <br />Lisa Rea <br /> <br /> <br /> <br />

Christa Pierpont
Christa Pierpont says:
Mar 26, 2011 03:08 PM

Excellent paper, Mr. Steele. <br /> <br />The culture of prisons is highly institutionalized with high staff turn-over. Impacting that culture is going to be extremely difficult without changing the culture that feeds the prison cycle to one that makes more sense in the long run. Here is where I believe we need to look seriously at the RJ City model www.rjcity.org <br /> <br />&nbsp;&nbsp;

Jonathan Rountree
Jonathan Rountree says:
Mar 27, 2011 10:20 PM

As someone who has spent a great deal of my life behind bars I think it's about time something is done to address the need for offender's to have a conscience. Far too often I have seen programmes of rehabilitation used as a bargaining chip for statistical justification (bandaids over fatal wounds)rather than giving a sense of real participation in personal development.I am now one of 'the prodigal sons returned home' so have some practical experience to bring to the table. You guys are on the right track.

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