NZ Catholic Bishops call for reconciliation, not revenge, in prisons
Jul 28, 2009
In 1989 New Zealand’s Catholic Bishops called our penal system “a poison in the bloodstream of our nation” and predicted that unless we changed our ways of responding to crime, we were heading to become the most imprisoned society in the Western world.
Twenty years later, we have reached the number two position, second only to the United States. Prison numbers are growing faster than we can build prisons to hold people, and shortage of cells is leading to unsatisfactory solutions such as double-bunking.
Our respect for human dignity means that every person has a right to feel safe in the community. But this same respect for human dignity also means that every prisoner has a right to safety. The basis of our society’s right to punish those who abuse the human rights of others, is also the basis of our society’s responsibility to protect the human rights of offenders.
Many New Zealanders have found opportunities for repentance and forgiveness through restorative justice processes, such as Family Group Conferences. Our experience is that requiring offenders to face up to the consequences of their crimes, and giving victims an opportunity to express their hurt, can be a turning point for both parties. Restorative justice needs good facilitators who understand that reconciliation is the goal of restorative justice, and it is not simply another way of sentencing offenders. New Zealand has led the world in incorporating restorative justice processes into our justice system, and we need to continue to support this work for everyone involved.