Crime harms victims, offenders and communities. It has a ripple effect of impact. The criminal justice process should seek the healing of breaches, the redressing of imbalances and the restoration of broken relationships. It is recognised that this is not always the case. Incarceration, including pre-trial detention is still used frequently including young people having committed minor crimes such as using drugs or stealing basic commodities. One social injury is replaced by another; families, friends and the community as a whole focus on establishing blame and guilt. There is no encouragement for repentance or forgiveness yet many of us have never given ourselves time to sit in some of the court hearings of the accused let alone find out what kind of environment one has to survive in once they are thrown behind bars.
Juveniles in prison settings are sometimes put together with adults. Violence, prisoner against prisoner and guard against prisoner whilst you are still young. Sharing a cell with the adult that has been given life imprisonment, a serial killer, what kind of influence or positivity comes out of such a setting? One may argue and say a criminal is a criminal regardless of age. Some might say restorative justice is not appropriate for dealing with more serious cases such as rape, murder and domestic violence. That restorative justice is a soft option that ignores the need for punishment widening the net in that more offenders get drawn into the system. ‘The bad apple spoils the bunch’ so they say and it deserves to be thrown in prison where it belongs. My question is, when will we start seeing children and young people as they are and not as the crimes they commit?
The justice system was set up to deliver justice and keep our communities safe, but most of the time, the same young people missing from the decision- making table are the most impacted by those decisions. The onus is on us now as communities to choose the path that we deem fit for our children and young people who find themselves caught in a web of crime. Restorative or Retributive? Are our governments going to continue funding prisons and if so for how long? Or fund programs that seek to remove the stigma of crime, programs that focus on repairing social injury and problem solving?
Source: Eugene Tshuma YAC 2017