If crimes show the mistakes of man, then the way a government handles them shows the strength of a nation.
Yet we, as a nation, remain short-sighted on the detriments of a retributive justice model. For when a crime is committed, we commit the offender to punishment. We strive for justice yet forget that justice is about balance.
I’ve written countless pages on the topics of retribution, justice and even vengeance, and I have often questioned my own moral compass: what would I do if someone harmed me or someone I cared about? The person I am and the beliefs I have would dictate my actions if such a sad situation inflicted me. Would I not want retribution? If someone took that person away from me, should that murderer not feel the same pain?
“It is because society has to be greater in its forgiveness and greater in morality than any single individual. As we live together, in harmony, we transcend our mere individual scopes and provide society the strength of all us one pillars, to uphold the very notions of equality, morality and humanity, when the individual cannot.”
That quote was my epiphany from a few years back. It’s from a piece I wrote, and without writing it, I would not be the person I am today.
Perhaps my views on retributive justice would not have changed and thus I would continue living with the notion that an eye for an eye doesn’t make the whole world blind.
But it does.
I believe in justice and, therefore, I believe in balance. But giving those who have fallen from the good in society jail sentences or other retributive forms of punishment rarely solves the underlying issues that plague society with crimes.
If a man commits domestic violence and is charged, he is in turn thrown in jail. As his rage continues to build, so can the acts of his next crime. As he returns to his family, after serving his punishment, what will stop him from continuing with domestic violence or worse?
Yes, jail may have tried to provide this inmate with counselling, rehabilitation or other restorative means of justice, but they were secondary. Retribution was of higher accord.
Imagine the same man committed the same crime yet he was placed in a jail that specializes in rehabilitation of domestic violence. He was surrounded by men working through the same situations. He was provided education, therapy and counselling on how to better deal with his rage, showing him that he has not lost the love of his family and helping him acclimatize back into society. Would that not be a better and more inclusive approach?
No political party addresses wholly the detrimental criminal justice system we currently have. And none have brought questions relating to a full reform of our system as a priority to their platforms.
It is because we have found comfort in our current system.
Please understand that I acknowledge that Canada’s criminal justice system isn’t solely bad. Our system has strengths and has worked to a degree.
We are blessed that our system has not become so bleak like that of the United States, as they cannot differentiate a criminal from the corrupt and partially privatized criminal justice system they employ.
Crime rates are on the decline in Canada, at least that’s what the statistics say, but ask any boots on the ground and they will tell you that streets are becoming more and more dangerous.
I recently spoke with a police officer about the crime climate on the streets.
“Criminals today are more educated, more advanced, better armed and equipped, not to mention they are tech savvy. Statistics may say crime is on the decline, but here on the streets, it’s never been more dangerous.”
Streets are getting more brazen, it’s a fact. Look at gang activity afflicting Metro Vancouver for the last 25 years. Though it comes in spurts, gang shootings are occurring in more suburban areas than ever before. Shootings near shopping centres or restaurants are an anomaly nowadays and shootings on residential streets are at times a nightly occurrence.
I’ve asserted many times throughout my career that the awareness and prevention modes of action will always supersede intervention and enforcement.
We can take these modes of action and apply it to a restorative justice model as easily as we did for retributive justice.
Not only does restorative justice reduce repeat offending, it also has better success with reintegration of former criminals back into society.
But if the government wants to continue hesitating on our criminal justice system reform, it would be prudent for me to mention the cost benefits.
It is definitely plausible to think the restorative justice approach would cost the government more (per inmate) than our current approach. As you spend more tax dollars early on (counselling, education, rehabilitation) it will definitely seem like you are not getting your money’s worth in protecting society.
Shouldn’t our tax dollars be spent on bigger and better prisons? With more security and more security guards?
Sure, a valid argument, but it’s an approach that will always need upgrading.
Instead, by reducing the amount of repeat offenders (who usually are the ones in prison for longer terms) and by taking an awareness and prevention approach throughout the public, we will save money – a lot of money – in the long term.
And thinking of our future should be our priority.
“Retribution carries with it a false promise of satisfaction and closure,” said Joanne Falvai, Professor of Criminology at Vancouver Island University. “How can there be closure when there is no true understanding, no real communication and no opportunity for healing? Crime thrusts victims into a relationship they never agreed to be in with a person they never sought out or desired to know. Freedom comes by returning to the hurt, looking it in the eye and then choosing how to move forward.”
Retributive justice is cyclical and does not hold true to justice and balance as we have been taught to believe it does, and it takes the approach of giving punishment for a crime. Whereas restorative justice takes the approach of righting the wrongs and where possible, fixing the damage done.