The Humanity of Restorative Justice
*Disclaimer: all names of offenders have been changed to protect their privacy.
On Saturday November 16th, Queens Correctional Services Volunteers (QCSV) attended the Kingston Community Chaplaincy (KCC) Restorative Justice Conference where keynote speaker Professor Melissa Munn spoke about her experiences working with Correctional Service Canada (CSC). A local organization, the KCC works to help reintegrate prisoners by bringing community partners together and creating change in offender’s lives.
Professor Munn, an activist and sociology professor at Okanagan College, works with long term imprisonment and release of offenders. Her latest co-authored book, On the Outside, provides words of wisdom from successful former long-term prisoners and is distributed to inmates across the country.
Restorative Justice (RJ) is a voluntary collaboration between an offender and the victim which focuses on the rehabilitation of the offender of a crime and reconciliation with the victim, rather than placing emphasis on punishment.
During her presentation on using RJ Principles to work with federal offenders, Professor Munn emphasized that respect, compassion, and inclusivity are crucial to the successful rehabilitation of offenders. She further explained that crime affects the whole community and residents must live together with offenders, rather than solely through a business relationship. “[Residents need to] see the inmates as people who belong in the community but have simply been absent from it” (Munn). Key to RJ is treating all people with dignity, acknowledging an inmate’s struggles, and creating a support network for them to provide coping strategies.
“In-reach is critically important and an area where all prisons in Canada are under-serviced.” (Munn)
In-reach creates the foundation for crucial relationships which provides prisoners with a fundamental sense of hope that is critical to rehabilitation. Prisoners are people too and in-reach efforts give them the opportunity to showcase their humanity, as well as allow them to be grounded.
“Preparing for parole begins the day [a convict] starts their sentence.” (Munn)
There is an increasing requirement for an offender to have concrete plans upon release, but in order to do so, they need a connection to the real world. This is why RJ is an integral part of the prison sentence. By mitigating feelings of fear and giving a sense of ease in anticipation of release, it also decreases recidivism.
Since 2008, over 80.0% of federal day parole supervision periods have been successfully completed and in 2017, the successful completion rate of federal day parole was 2.1 percentage points higher (at 92.7%) than in 2016 (Public Safety Canada Portfolio Corrections Statistics Committee). Furthermore, as of 2018, there were approximately 500 different Restorative Justice programs running in communities across the country, primarily for youth offenders (CBC News).
RJ is further supported by escorted temporary absences (ETAs), which allows inmates to temporarily enter the community under the supervision of a correctional services officer.
“In 2018, success rate with ETA’s was 99.5%.” (Munn)
Current social movements are not reflected in the prison system (e.g. female equality) and it’s a large cultural shock for inmates upon release, presenting enormous difficulties for offenders. ETA’s are critical for long-term release because they help inmates deal with this culture shock upon reintegration, adjust to the pace of society in preparation for their release, and decrease the overall struggle inmates will experience upon release.
One person having faith an offender can and should be restored is life changing and therefore ties to the community increases successful completion of federal day parole.
During the second half of her presentation, Professor Munn outlined the challenges prisoners face upon release, reducing them to the following categories: (1) mental health, (2) susceptibility to social body, (3) negative influences, (4) work and finance, (5) impact of incarceration, and (6) aging, sharing powerful quotes from offenders she worked with.
“It’s like being a rape victim, you can wash but you never get that dirt off you. Prison is like that… you’ve been violated. You’ve got emotional scars. They never leave. Ever.” (Mr. Flowers)
Of the 10.3 million prisoners worldwide, approximately 13.7% of these offenders will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Baranyi, Gergõ et al., 2018). Additionally, according to the Intersectional Analyst (2017), of the incarcerated population, 27.6% have an identified mental health need, a rate much higher than in the general population (about 10 percent in 2012). By normalizing PTSD experiences, volunteers are able to help inmates cope, surviving in spite of prison. Offenders experience overwhelming guilt and shame, but are often extremely grateful, even if they don’t demonstrate it.
To accommodate for the adverse experiences of incarceration,
“We pick up all kinds of masks that we put on to survive in jail and… these masks work.” (Luc)
It is easy for offenders to resort back to these masks to provide comfort in the community because “the daily things, even as simple as ordering a cup of coffee, trips them up” (Munn). Offenders are afraid of standing out, constantly believing they are marked with a letter “C” for convict imprinted on their foreheads; they just want to fit in and be normal. However, without exposure to RJ, inmates are frequently unable to cope, missing the reliable sense of familiarity and routine of prison, unfortunately returning to a life of crime.
“Jail is comfortable. Out here [in the community], it’s a jungle.” (Marcus)
Providing support for an offender is different from forming a friendship, which is by no means a requirement. Professor Munn stated faith-based organizations are phenomenal with in-reach programs. The InnerChange Freedom Initiative is a Christian-oriented pre-release program that focuses on biblical teaching, life-skills education, and group accountability. According to a study published by the Government of Canada, graduates from this program had lower re-arrest rates than offenders in the control group who had not participated in the program (Griffiths, C., Dandurand, Y., Murdoch, D., 2018).
“On a one-to-one basis, people are willing to look beyond a criminal record.” (Munn)
In honour of Restorative Justice Week this week, QCSV will be addressing social issues surrounding the topic. You can also learn more about the effects of Restorative Justice in Canada here.
On behalf of QCSV volunteers, I encourage you to check out our other social media platforms and to take a moment to reflect on the widespread impact of incarceration, not only on the offenders themselves, but also on their families, the victims, the victims' families, and the community.