Rethinking Justice New Perspectives on Old Challenges

Wed, 21 Nov 2012

Brenda Morrison, Ph.D
Associate Professor, School of Criminology
Director, Centre for Restorative Justice

Our justice system needs a fundamental re-think and re-fit.  We can no long fix the problem with the same old solutions: more police, more prosecution, more punishment - the three traditional Ps of our justice system.

The system is not responding to community needs and is breeding frustration at all levels: community, police, prosecution, and corrections.  We should not be surprized that confidence in our justice system is low: the era of social control of the “bad apple” is over, and we now know that social engagement keeps communities stronger and safer.

The lived experience of our justice system is alienation - not engagement - for victims, offenders and communities.  We have lost our community’s willingness to stand up and be engaged, and have instead become passive agents, receiving the actions of the state, rather than active contributors. We need to find our passion for civic participation again; particularly in Vancouver, where the divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” is widening and the attitude of many Vancouverites is feeling alone in the big city. We need social institutions that foster belonging, not alienation

The system is upside down and we need to turn it right side up. Our conventional justice system responds to state needs.  The justice system should first respond to community needs, not institutional ones. It is an adversarial contest between the State and the “bad apple”, to determine guilt or innocence and to hand down the appropriate amount of punishment.   We are missing the voice of the victim and the community in this equation. Restorative justice fills this gap in the justice equation, through engaging these groups in the justice process and adding direct accountability to those harmed to the equation. 

Geoff Cowper (QC), in the Green Paper Review for the Ministry, recommends increasing the use of restorative justice.  Shirley Bond, Minister of Justice and Attorney General agrees.  In a press release this week, the B.C. government has followed a national call proclaiming, “Nov. 18-25 as ‘Restorative Justice Week’ to highlight the important work of restorative justice groups and recognize their value in building safer communities”.

Minister Bond recognizes that: “Restorative justice is an example of how we can build community by strengthening offenders’ understanding of the impacts of their crimes and providing victims with a chance to be heard. The broader benefit is lower recidivism, which strengthens both community and family safety. “My heartfelt thanks go out to the many volunteers in communities large and small who make an important contribution to furthering justice and keeping B.C.’s crime rate low.”

The time is ripe to have a serious SFU City Conversation on Re-thinking and Re-fitting justice.