The power of faith in restorative justice
Norwich Quaker and magistrate, John Myhill, responds to a speech by Minister of Justice, Lord McNally on the government’s current reforms of sentencing and Legal Aid, given to the Norfolk Ecumenical Criminal Justice Forum in Norwich on July 26.
On Tuesday, Lord McNally, spoke to and responded to questions from Christian professionals in Norfolk working in the justice system. He made it abundantly clear that this government intends to simplify the present systems of evaluation by placing greater reliance on the judgement of professionals and concentrating on essentials like the reduction of reoffending. The new systems will be easier to understand, and they will be more effective and save money.
Clearly as professionals we will welcome an increase in availability of drug treatment facilities in the community. At present it is easier to access drug rehabilitation on a long prison sentence than to access that rehabilitation in the community and thus avoid committing the crime.
Practically all professionals I have spoken with who work with drug addicts would like to see some form of decriminalisation, so that drug barons can be bankrupted, and drug rehabilitation accessed more easily. We see that most crime fuels addiction, or results from activities of the drug barons. But all the political parties are afraid to take on the media driven public; whom they fear would see decriminalisation as being soft on crime.
Similarly those of us who work in the Family Courts are appalled by the huge public expenditure involved in sorting out arguments between separated parents and welcome cost saving in this area. Of course the Legal Aid reform will have to be carefully monitored. If child abuse and domestic violence have to be alleged in before parents can gain legal aid in a family dispute; there is the danger that accusations of domestic violence or child abuse will be manufactured, in order to gain Legal Aid.
Again, if hostels for ex-prisoners are going to be judged, solely, on the length of time they manage to keep an offender from reoffending; then there is a danger that hostels will only take those ex-prisoners whom they feel are unlikely to reoffend.
Those who seem more likely to reoffend would then be left in private rented accommodation or become homeless. These circumstances would inevitably make them more likely to reoffend. Clearly the desire to remove the paper work involved in current systems is welcome news to professionals, who want to get on with the job; but such a development is not easy.
Difficult questions were raised by members of the audience, like how sex offenders can be prevented from re-offending, when the media-driven society prevents the development of facilities, so that offenders end up unmonitored in B&B accommodation.
Anything is possible with faith, and everyone was very enthusiastic about the success of Restorative Justice; which accepts the power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives of victims and offenders.
Perhaps we should also express our faith in the power of the Spirit to transform our national newspapers and public opinion, so that ex-offenders are reintegrated into society.