Roman Catholic Archbishop Jason Gordon yesterday knocked the country’s penal system, saying it was not about justice but retribution.
He was speaking at a symposium on restorative justice, hosted by the Catholic Commission for Social Justice in collaboration with the Faculty of Law, at the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies.
The event was titled, Understanding and Promoting Restorative Justice.“The penal system as it exists today, exists not so much for justice but, I would dare say, for retribution of some form or fashion – that you unfaired me, therefore, you must pay a price,” Gordon said.
“I am not sure how your paying a price gets me back to be fair or how it gives me some form of dignity back.
“That’s the question because the system was set up long ago where the form of justice was that if you did something, you took something that belonged to me, you lost your freedom and your liberty and while you were parked away being warehoused, somehow I was feeling better for myself because you lost your dignity or your liberty or your life or your name.”
He added: “That kind of worked well in terms of stopping people, saying I better not steal because, otherwise, I might go to jail and if I go to jail, how it go look? It will look bad. So, it is kind of a preventative, measure.” Gordon said that scenario had not worked well in the existing justice system.
“There are more people being warehoused in prisons around the world now than ever before and the truth in our circumstance is that an 18- or 19-year-old commits a crime, goes through the legal system, goes into remand, and in remand what happens?
“He now goes from a petty criminal, graduates with a degree, comes out with a Masters (degree) depending on how long he spends on the remand and now comes out with a circle of friends who have taught him how to do real criminal activity and, therefore, it has not helped society by putting this person in remand.”
Gordon said there were many people who had spent more time in remand than they should have.
“And so, how is justice being served by this system that we are using now?” The Archbishop said TT was yet to define itself a society.
“I think, until we are willing to answer that question, it’s going to be really hard to settle all of the many social challenges that we are facing because the social challenges that we face are challenges that have come about because we do not have the traditions, customs, laws, sensitivity as a people to settle the things that we are negotiating now – things that we did not have to negotiate before because they were refereed for us by a parent/colonial master who would set whatever they thought the law was or the justice was.
“Now, we are masters of our own house and we have to find new traditions, new ways of dealing with things.”