Updated Restorative Justice Policy Report Released
Canada has a relatively high incarceration rate, while also having high recidivism rates, that is, a high likelihood that a convicted criminal will reoffend after being released from prison.
When looking at how to improve the justice system, some have a ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ mentality, where punishment outweighs any possibility of restoration. Others will argue that we need more rehabilitation, where the state seeks to determine the reason why someone committed a crime and then provides services to alleviate that reason or cure the offender of whatever they believe caused the crime.
These are two extreme sides of the debate, and others land somewhere in between, often depending on what crime has been committed.
On the one hand, we recognize that anyone who commits a crime is morally responsible for what they have done and punishment for crime is necessary. But, as believers in, and recipients of, mercy and grace, we also see value in giving offenders the opportunity to make amends and seek restoration. Appropriately applying restorative justice principles has the potential to help improve the justice system and the find the proper balance between punishment and restoration.
What Is Restorative Justice?
It is important to clarify what we mean by restorative justice.
Ultimately, restorative justice principles take a holistic view of justice and provide a comprehensive vision of a justice system where communities are governed by the rule of law, where offenders take responsibility for their actions, and where peace can be promoted through the healing of broken relationships. Restorative justice prioritizes victims, humanizes offenders, and cultivates community engagement, while still promoting responsibility and accountability for offenders.
Restorative justice has its roots in the Old Testament and applies biblical principles directly to the criminal justice system. Restitution, for example, is a biblical principle that has application in Canada’s existing Criminal Code and involves paying back a debt to an offended party.
Restorative Justice in Canada
Restorative justice principles exist in Canadian law, but they are not used enough. There are multiple ways these principles could be appropriately applied in the sentencing process, in incarceration, and in the reintegration of offenders into our communities. Proper application will have a positive impact by reducing recidivism rates and the costs of incarceration and improving victim satisfaction and efficiency within the justice system.
ARPA Canada’s initial Respectfully Submitted policy report on restorative justice was published in 2016. Since that time, support for restorative justice principles has seemingly increased and some improvements have been made. In 2021, the House of Commons passed Bill C-228, An Act to Establish a Federal Framework to Reduce Recidivism, which seeks to reduce recidivism and encouraged the government to help offenders re-integrate into society in a way that helps them avoid falling back into criminal behaviour. The bill also required the government to consult with other sectors of society, such as faith-based organizations.
More recently, the federal government introduced and debated Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. While this bill has some concerning elements, it also seeks to apply certain principles of restorative justice. You can read more about this bill here or here.
Updated Policy Report
We have just published our revised and updated version of the Respectfully Submitted policy report on restorative justice, expanding on the biblical principles of restorative justice and how they can be better applied in Canada.
Our recommendations focus on ensuring better knowledge and application of restorative justice principles in the justice system. This can be done by making greater use of alternatives to incarceration, encouraging active involvement of non-governmental institutions and organizations in the justice system, and actively studying recidivism data.
We encourage you to read through the report and connect with your MP this fall to encourage them to read it as well. Please contact us at [email protected] if you have any feedback or questions on the report.