THE CANADIAN CRIMINAL JUSTICE DELEMNA:
Is Restorative Justice an Effective Application of Criminal Law?
Many citizens of Canada believe the formal criminal justice system is failing. It is frequently criticized for being too costly and time consuming (RCMP website, 2006). The present system, focused primarily on retribution, does not seem to be helping the victims, who are largely excluded from meaningful participation and are often re-victimized by the legal process. Nor does it help a large percentage of the offenders, who do not learn in prison the kinds of behaviors that make them better, more responsible citizens. They instead, often continue their criminal tendencies once released (Bloom, 1999). A more satisfying system of justice is needed, and with this in mind, reformers in the field of penology are looking at alternative forms of achieving justice. A restorative response provides one such option to the traditional retributive justice system which prevails in Canada today. The philosophy of restorative justice varies greatly from that of a retributive system, but although it challenges us to rethink what justice is all about, perhaps there are situations appropriate for each of these approaches in a modern Canadian criminal justice system.
This research paper will define the concepts of restorative and retributive criminal justice, and describe the foundation upon which each is based. The goals, processes, and desired outcomes associated with each system will be explained in detail. Strengths and weaknesses from perspectives of victim, offender, and community, will be reviewed.
Canadian Criminal Justice Today – Does It Meet the Needs?
Crime means breaking the rules of the land. In Canada the “rules” are the laws set forth by the Canadian judicial system. Age-old human needs are such that justice must be seen to be done in response to violations of the law. Expectations include such things as punishment, deterrence, behavior change, safety of citizens, victim compensation, and victim satisfaction (Bloom, 1999). These aims of the justice system are not, however, always realized in daily practice.
What would be the ideal outcomes of a “perfect” justice? In terms of the offender, one might hope to see effects such as appropriate punishment, zero recidivism, absolute deterrence, ongoing liaison and follow-up, and reintegration into society (RCMP website, 2006). Victims would be actively involved in the justice process and ideally, offer forgiveness. An ideal system would provide healing for all parties (victim, offender, and community), and all would experience a sense of closure and satisfaction. Although there is little likelihood of such a perfect system ever evolving, incorporation of restorative justice principles into the present system could offer outcomes closer to the “ideal” ones mentioned. Retributive Justice
The traditional, formal criminal justice system in Canada today, is based on retribution. Retributive justice provides reason for the existence and limits of law, as defined in the Criminal Code of Canada. The offender deserves punishment because he/she has offended the laws and moral code of the land. An individual’s conduct is classified as a violation of a law and the offender becomes accountable to the authorities for the misbehavior. As a result, the authority figures and the offender are in an adversarial relationship ( O’Connor, 2006; RCMP website, 2006). Accountability is equated with suffering, and a systematic infliction of punishment justified on the grounds that the criminal has disrupted the social order, ensues. Offenders are defined only by their crimes. Victims are defined only by their material and psychological losses and are not directly involved in the process of responding to and resolving the misbehavior (Bloom, 1999; O’Connor, 2006; RCMP website, 2006).
Retributive justice originated in the time of the Norman Conquest, when feudalism...
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