[More sensible ideas from the US!] Prison reform: A smart way for states to save money and lives
With nearly all 50 states facing budget deficits, it's time to end business as usual in state capitols and for legislators to think and act with courage and creativity.
We urge conservative legislators to lead the way in addressing an issue often considered off-limits to reform: prisons. Several states have recently shown that they can save on costs without compromising public safety by intelligently reducing their prison populations.
Governor Jerry Brown: Can he support restorative justice?
by Lisa Rea
Jerry Brown has returned to California Governor's office in 2011 having first been elected the youngest governor in the state in 1975. What's changed?
The incarceration rate has skyrocketed. In 1986 the state prison population was at 59,000. Now the state incarcerates 173, 000 inmates in its state prisons (Legislative Analyst Office, 2006). Although editorial writer Dan Morain of the Sacramento BEE speaks of Brown's close ties to the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA, the prison guard union with more members than most unions in the state) I believe Brown will not be tied to the failed policies of the past. I expect something more.
Crossing the divide
It has often been my experience that restorative justice can span the conservative-liberal divide. Concerns for victims and for reducing the costs of imprisonment are often common to both. The concept of offenders facing up to what they have done makes intuitive sense to many. Values such as responsibility, respect and relationship are often shared along the spectrum. What we mean by these values and ideas, however, and what motivates us to embrace them, are crucial issues.
The lessons to be gleaned from the movement against indeterminate sentencing in the U.S. are instructive. Eventually both progressives and conservatives came together to replace indeterminate sentences with determinate sentences motivated by a just deserts philosophy. The resulting lengthened mandatory sentences dramatically increased the prison population. While there was some confluence of policy positions, the underlying values and motivations of the various parties were quite different. The results have been in many ways catastrophic.
US national conservatives unveil Right On Crime initiative
One of the most interesting, albeit quiet, developments in the Texas policy world has been the bipartisan consensus that has developed on criminal justice since about 2005. Basically, the idea is that putting non-violent offenders in prison for technical violations wastes public funds and that rehabilitation and restitution should play larger roles in the criminal justice system. This approach places more emphasis on controlling costs in criminal justice by focusing incarceration for the most dangerous and violent offenders.
....A group of national conservatives led by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Russell Keene of the American Conservative Union, and former Attorney General Ed Meese unveiled the “Right On Crime” initiative and website. The group held a conference call this morning to unveil the website.
Restorative Justice on Death Row: healing for crime victims?
by Lisa Rea
A death row inmate in Florida recently died in prison before the state could execute him. I became aware of Robert's case because I met his pen pal, Ines, a woman from Switzerland who had be-friended him through a pen pal organization, Lifespark, based in that country. After being interviewed by Ines for her organization's newsletter on the subject of forgiveness and restorative justice I learned more about the man she wrote in a Florida prison who had served some 20 years on death row. The story came to an end on December 3rd, 2010 when Robert unexpectedly died of cancer. But what I learned from my encounter with Ines was the real need to open doors more fully for all victims of violent crime wherever their offenders live and wherever their victims live (if they are still alive). I learned through Ines that her pen pal, once a very violent offender, was ready to attempt to make things right, as much as possible, with the victims or victim's family members that he had injured. The rap sheet on this man was very violent and longer than I'd ever seen.
I often learn things about restorative justice and how to apply it seemingly coincidentally. When cases draw me, or more likely the people behind the cases, I have a hard time saying no.
International restorative justice week: miracles and certainty
This week is International Restorative Justice Week. Last week on Australian Story, Kerry Tucker told her story of restoration back into the community after being incarcerated for seven years. She’s currently finishing her PhD and lecturing at Swinburne University. It’s a remarkable story and she’s an inspirational woman. What I found particularly moving about her story was how much of a struggle she found re-entering the community post-imprisonment, even though she is a strong woman with exceptional communication skills, family support to fall back on and educational qualifications. She said herself, ‘After a few days out, I just wanted to go back to prison’.
Rethinking the politics of crime
It is fair to say that many American criminal justice officials live in fear of finding themselves in a similar position to Crispin Blunt: out on an island, on the wrong side of the “tough on crime” debate. This understandable fear has broad consequences for the field of criminal justice. Among other things, it creates a risk-averse environment where both policymakers and practitioners are reluctant to challenge the status quo and test new ideas.
This is a problem that Aubrey Fox and I examine in our new book Trial and Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure (2010: Urban Institute Press). The central argument of the book is that criminal justice officials should adopt a lesson from the field of science, embracing the trial-and-error process and talking more honestly about how difficult it is to change the behavior of offenders and reduce chronic offending in crime-plagued urban neighborhoods.
Response by Dr Martin Wright to European Commission consultation document: Taking action on rights, support and protection of victims of crime and violence
The key to this reply is in the last answer: that in principle restorative justice practices should be available to all victims, subject only to the safeguards mentioned in the reply to Question 17. Restorative processes are in the interests not only of victims, but also of offenders and the community.
Victim-offender dialogue is valuable as an end in itself as well as a means to an end. For many victims, action to make the offender less likely to re-offend is at least as high on their list of priorities as monetary compensation or reparation through work. When the victim and offender agree on one of these methods of reparation, it is incumbent on the community to provide the resources to enable offenders to carry them out.
Towards a Restorative Society: a problem-solving response to harm
by Dobrinka Chankova, South- West University, Bulgaria:
This is not the first pamphlet or book in which Dr Martin Wright - a convinced victims’ advocate and one of the doyens of restorative justice in Europe – critiques contemporary sentencing policies and penitentiary systems. He has extensively published on endemic abuses of closed institutions and the need for immediate reform of the failing criminal justice systems, proposing a new crime policy, based on restorative justice. Lately he has advocated for applying restorative practices in new domains - schools, neighborhood, community, workplaces, etc. and is leading us to a genuine restorative society.
In his latest pamphlet Dr Wright reconsiders the confused logic on which present policies are based; measures that could make a difference and how a restorative approach could transform people’s and society lives. With his inherent objectivity and scientific precision he pays due attention to the objections to and tensions in restorative justice and how its principles could be put into practice throughout society.
Why restorative justice fans trumpet Northern Ireland
from the entry by Bluecorps on Criminologist:
The possible introduction of restorative justice in mainland Britain promises to spark a furious debate but in Northern Ireland they wonder what the fuss is all about.
It has been a mainstream feature of the youth justice there for seven years. Three quarters of victims choose to meet the young offender face to face and victim satisfaction rates stand at 90 per cent, according to the Northern Ireland Justice Ministry.