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Love creates space for restorative justice

  • 22 May 2014

One of the notable developments in the justice system in recent years has been the attention given to the victims of serious crime. Those directly affected and their relatives have been given a chance to speak and so to influence sentencing. As a result the consequences of crime receive wider publicity.

This development has been welcome. By highlighting in human terms the human consequences for those affected by crime it invites the court, the perpetrator and the community to recognise its seriousness. It shows that no crime is an event without consequence but brings hurt and loss to individuals and to different groups beyond the immediate victim. The response of the community to crime must take this into account..

The attention to victims has come at a time when political attitudes to crime and sentencing have hardened. Statutory minimum sentences, the reduction of parole and the loss of judicial flexibility embody an emphasis on the retributive aspect of punishment, with corresponding less emphasis on the place of rehabilitation and restoration. Imprisonment is seen as the principal way of safeguarding the community.

As a result jailes are becoming more crowded with less funding and opportunity for rehabilitation.

Although imprisonment is an essential part of any response to crime, this emphasis fails to serve well the needs of victims of crime or of the community. These are inextricably interwoven with the needs of the perpetrators.

The challenge for all affected is to find the inner space to address these needs. Crime restricts space: the inner freedom we need to take responsibility for our lives and the consequences of what we have done, to accept our predicaments, and to recognise that we are vulnerable to events and people over which we have no control.

This space is crowded out by the anger, fear, guilt and horror that we naturally feel when confronted with the crime we have done, suffered or seen enter our world. In addressing crime, we need to restore and amplify that space so that people can find healing, make changes to their lives and make rational decisions.

The prosecution and sentencing of perpetrators help restore space to victims and the community, restoring their faith in an ordered world. The opportunity for victims to describe their hurt and have it taken into account in sentencing also gives space. It affirms the wrongness of the crime and ensures others will be protected.

But many victims discover that no finite punishment