What is the Criminal Justice System for?
The 2015 conference of Quakers in Criminal Justice took place at the Ammerdown Centre, Somerset, from 20 to 22 February 2015. Some 40 Quakers gathered in the tranquillity and comfort of the Centre to review recent developments in criminal justice.
The conference opened with a chaired discussion between two highly experienced speakers: one a prison psychologist also involved in UN justice matters; the other an academic criminologist. Some of the discussion argued for Transformative rather than simply Restorative Justice: moving forwards to a better situation rather than back to a previous situation. It is not helpful that RJ is often seen only in terms of victim-offender mediation, rather than a wider set of possibilities.
There was a moving presentation based around the true story of a 13-year-old girl in one of our major cities who fell into the hands of traffickers and was shamefully abused over a long period. This type of criminal action is becoming more common throughout the UK, and the profiles of perpetrators and victims cover pretty well the whole spectrum. It is too simplistic to blame particular subgroups.
In another presentation, a representative of Penal Reform International told us about that organisation's work to reduce the use of the death penalty. It was noticeable that, despite some dark areas, many parts of the world were gradually moving towards a more humane approach.
Workshops informed us about the best way to engage with our MPs; about QPSW's work to encourage wider discussion around penal topics; and about the issues faced by people with communication difficulties when dealing with the justice system.
We were reminded that, when QICJ was founded, Ulster and South Africa were seen as enormous problems, yet great progress has been made. So we must never lose hope, and in the closing worship a Friend quoted from Emily Dickinson's poem “Hope” is the thing with feathers:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops — at all