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Contemporary Penology and Restorative Justice

Time for Moral Courage and Political Bravery. Page 1/3
by David J Cornwell (author of Doing Justice Better).
July 2010.

Of course, more serious forms of criminal offending will inevitably result in custodial sanctions, the duration of which should be strictly proportionate to the seriousness of the offence(s) committed. There is, however, no reason why those serious offenders who express remorse and a willingness to make reparation should not be enabled to do so while held in custody. Such offenders should not be compelled to spend their time in custody with others who show no remorse and/or refuse to accept responsibility for their crimes. Thus it becomes possible to conceive of a 'two-tier' custodial penal system with entire establishments being operated on a reparative and restorative basis, and with the final phase of such sentence periods being spent working 'on probation' within local communities. In addition to reducing the overall size of the prison population, such a sentence structure would also more meaningfully contribute to what has hitherto been described somewhat confusingly as the 'rehabilitative process'.

There is an ever-increasing body of research evidence to show that offenders sanctioned within a restorative mode of justice become significantly less likely to re-offend in the future simply because they understand the harm and distress caused to victims. They also recognise the effect of their offending on themselves and upon their own close families and communities, and seek to avoid causing more in the future. Moreover, experience in Finland, Canada and certain other countries in the deliberate reduction of the prison population has conclusively proved that many prison sentences are entirely unnecessary, and that community sanctions served as an alternative do not increase public risk.

As matters currently stand, time spent in prisons is a de-humanising and ultimately damaging experience that serves little purpose other than the 'warehousing' of offenders in conditions conducive to re-offending. Restorative Justice provides a means of avoiding returning embittered and unrepentant offenders into communities with a high likelihood of returning to crime. To follow such an agenda requires a new moral courage, honesty and bravery in our politicians and opinion-formers that is long overdue. The legacy of past failure in penal reform remains the inheritance of the future unless and until a determined attempt is made to resolve the penal crisis in a more enlightened and humane manner.

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