Quakers in Criminal Justice

July 2011 Newsletter


We will be running off extra copies of this Newsletter for Friends at the Yearly Meeting and Family Gathering at Canterbury. Some may be hearing of QICJ for the first time. Criminal Justice has always been on the list of Quaker concerns, for the very good reason that large numbers of Friends have found themselves harshly treated by the justice system, both in the early days of seventeenth-century persecution, and more recently through refusal to fight in world wars, or to countenance preparations for future wars. And it was George Fox who said, “Men should not be put to death for fourpenny matters.”

We still have a long way to go. Switching on the radio a few days ago, I heard a well-nurtured female voice maintaining that high prison numbers need to be maintained “for the protection of society”. She did not consider why other Western European countries, with similar crime patterns to ours, get away with imprisoning far fewer people. To lock up so many offenders may keep them out of circulation for a time, but evidence suggests imprisonment of many offenders is actually counter-productive, as it increases the social and economic disadvantage which is one of the causes of crime.

“The causes of crime” – a vexed question, even in the days of Ancient Egypt, when one writer complained, “The world is going to the dogs. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is trying to write a book.” Two books which all Friends should study to understand the roots of crime and other social ills, are The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett, and Injustice by Darling. It is quite clear, from the careers of such people as Razor Smith (featured in this issue) that deterrents, however severe, just do not work. Even if we had capital punishment for shoplifting, there would still be crime.

On a more positive note, I am glad to include an unusual feature in this issue: “Poetry Behind Bars”. You may be able to ponder the poems in quiet moments between YM sessions, or in your lodgings or your tent at night. Many people in adversity can work through it to provide insights for the rest of us. What is certain, is that the imagination and compassion of Friends was never so badly needed on the criminal justice scene as it is now.

Adrian Smith
Newsletter editor

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