Committee - News Service - October 26, 1994
FOR OFFENDERS NOT ANSWER TO CANADA'S CRIME PROBLEM
If harsher punishment
worked, U.S. would lead world in crime reduction, Mennonite Central
Committee Victim-Offender Ministries Director says
WINNIPEG, Man. -- Recent
highly-publicized murders and other crimes across Canada have resulted
in renewed calls for longer sentences, restricted or no parole and
a return to capital punishment. But harsher punishment is not the
answer to Canada's crime problem says Wayne Northey, who directs Victim-Offender
Ministries for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada.
Northey, who has been
involved in the criminal justice field for 20 years, agrees that
"our current system is failing victims, and is not dealing appropriately
with perpetrators of crime. But treating offenders more harshly
isn't the answer. If it was, the U.S. would lead the world in crime
reduction. Yet despite a prison population that doubled between
1980 and 1990, the crime rate in that country increased."
As well, Northey notes,
despite the reintroduction of a widely-publicized death penalty
in several states, "there was an upturn in the murder rate" in the
U.S., while Canada's murder rate has decreased 27 percent since
the death penalty was abolished in this country.
Only one country in
the industrialized world has actually reduced crime, Northey says.
That country is Japan, "which also has the lowest per capita imprisonment
rate in the world." He adds that the Japanese "have attributed their
success to a system called 'reintegrative shaming' or 'confession,
repentance, and absolution.'"
Northey adds that MCC's
extensive work in mediation since the mid-1970s has taught the agency
that "many crime survivors ultimately do not want vengeance. Rather,
they want recovery. They tell us that revenge inhibits the healing
process. They want answers, interaction, confrontation, healing
and closure. They want consequences conducive to their restoration.
They tell us often that their healing became mysteriously tied to
the offenders' healing. But they also say that offenders must learn
to empathize with their victims, and in no way be let off lightly."
For Northey, the best
approach to crime is a justice system "that mobilizes resources
first for the immediate victims of crime. Mediation resources should
also be made available for all victims of crime." As well, he says,
there should be a system which is "extremely efficient in the apprehension
and conviction of criminals, which vigorously holds offenders accountable
for their crimes, and offers the maximum opportunity for restoration
to all parties involved in the crime."
Finally, he suggests
that offenders "be given the impetus and opportunity to make amends,"
either by paying for damage or loss caused by their action or through
some kind of community service.
"All of these are examples
of what is called 'restorative justice,'" Northey says. "It's quite
different from the retributive, or a punishment-centred justice
which operates in Canada today." Restorative justice is based on
the biblical emphasis on restoring people to wholeness and community;
it includes community-based mediation programs which deal with pre-criminal
conflicts and all levels of crime in the Criminal Code
of Canada, including serious and violent crime.
"It seems politically
expedient at present to call for harsher treatment of offenders,"
Northey says. "But I hope the government will resist such pressures
because they are clearly counter-productive to restoration and healing
of offenders and victims alike."