Pastor Earl Ellis, offering his sermon at the funeral of murdered prison officer Darren Francis last week, called for a firmer hand in the prisons system. He described prisoners as “free to do as they wished” and called for a roll back of restorative justice programmes. It also isn’t clear that, as acting Attorney General Fitzgerald Hinds asserted during the service, that because of human rights arrangements, “controls have all but disappeared.”
This vision of local prisons as victims of liberal-minded indiscipline drifts far from the reality of the prisons service, where too many inmates live in state funded squalor. The mourners of Darren Francis, who did not deserve his fate, might have wished for closure, and justice for his killing ending restorative justice won’t solve the problems in our system of incarceration. And there is clearly a problem in local prisons, as the 25 officers who have been murdered over the last few years attest, having paid the ultimate price for a half-hearted effort at changing the focus and anticipated outcomes of a sentence behind bars.
Any notion that implementing restorative justice, a radical rethinking of the relationship between victims of crime and the perpetrators of the offence is likely to be either easy to implement or gentle on its participants is terribly misleading.
A proper system of restorative justice holds as its ultimate goal the return of criminals to civil society through open acknowledgement and repentance of the infractions that brought them to the attention of law officers.
It demands courage on the part of offenders and a wellspring of forgiveness from those they have wronged. When it works, it offers closure and the promise of a restart to a life that’s taken the wrong turn.
Our prison system is designed to punish, and it does so at every step with no regard to whether a prisoner is convicted or on remand. It is broad-brush punishment and hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocents or youths guilty of minor crimes are liberally daubed with its careless strokes; their lives taken even further off course by a system that offers little nuance or discretion.
The recidivism rate in TT is 74 percent. Within years of release, many offenders are back in prison. The circumstances which allow murderers to flourish behind bars must be excised with precision, but force begets force in much the same way that discussion and conversation set the tone for sensible discussion and mutual understanding.
There have been 10 reports on local prisons since 1945, the most recent delivered in 2012.
Restorative Justice Week is celebrated internationally from November 18, it’s a good time to refresh the conversation on its value in changing our prisons system.