Catholic bishops say reconciliation, not revenge, needed in prisons

In a statement on imprisonment New Zealand’s Catholic bishops have stressed that reconciliation, not revenge, must become the focus of the justice system in order to create a safer and more secure society.

The statement Revenge or Reconciliation, released today, reflects the view of Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias and Corrections Department chief Barry Matthews that greater community involvement is needed to reduce New Zealand’s high prison rate.

”All of us, whether victims of crime, offenders, employees in the criminal justice system, family members or neighbours, are called to find paths to a justice system which reconciles; which rejects attitudes of revenge; which helps victims to heal and offenders to turn their lives around,” say the bishops. “It is the only true path to the security and safety that our society longs for”.

In their statement the bishops say that society is becoming increasingly fearful, with people building a sense of security only on fuller prisons, longer sentences and harsher treatment of offenders, resulting in increasingly punitive attitudes towards people in prison, and calls for revenge and retribution.

Bishop Barry Jones of Christchurch is the bishops’ representative on the Prison Chaplaincy Service of Aotearoa New Zealand board. He says these attitudes have to change.

“Neither repentance nor forgiveness can occur without love and support, nor can either take place in an environment of bitterness and vengeance. Such support is lacking far too often in our current criminal justice system,” he says.

In 1989 the New Zealand Catholic Bishops predicted that unless there was a change in responses to crime, New Zealand was heading to be the most imprisoned society in the Western world. Twenty years later, it has reached the number two position, second only to the United States.

The Catholic Church in New Zealand continues to make a considerable contribution to the lives of people in prisons, through prison chaplaincy and other forms of ministry. It provides twenty-five prison chaplains to the country’s twenty prisons.

Bishop Jones says that Church ministers speak of a “constant deterioration” in prison conditions and of greater stigma for people trying to turn their lives around and reintegrate back into society.

In their statement the bishops say that their experience is that requiring offenders to face up to the consequences of their crimes, and giving victims an opportunity to express their hurt, can be a turning point for both parties.

“Restorative justice needs good facilitators who understand that reconciliation is the goal of restorative justice, and it is not simply another way of sentencing offenders. New Zealand has led the world in incorporating restorative justice processes into our justice system, and we need to continue to support this work for everyone involved”.

To read the statement follow the link