Academic journal article Social Justice

An Alternative Vision: Criminal Justice Developments in Non-Western Countries

Academic journal article Social Justice

An Alternative Vision: Criminal Justice Developments in Non-Western Countries

Article excerpt

But you see, the other thing is that, I think, lurking behind your question, is the concept of justice. Now you say, everybody has got to be punished. Your concept of what constitutes justice is retributive justice. Now that's not the only kind of justice. We believe that there is restorative justice, because you see, the application is heard in an open hearing, not behind closed doors.... And that public appearance constitutes a public humiliation which is, ... if you are looking for punitiveness..., a punishment. But we didn't think that was where we wanted to end. We were looking for healing.... [I]t's probably an African concept of our understanding of penology. What is the purpose? The purpose is ultimately the restoration of a harmony.

--Archbishop Desmond Tutu, speaking about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1).

T0 MANY COMMENTATORS CONCERNED WITH DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS, IT seems as if in criminal justice policy the whole world has taken a punitive and exclusionary direction, in response to public and media pressure and without concern for the social policy implications. Any consideration of criminal justice policy in most English-speaking Western countries, especially the United States, could provoke such a reaction. However, the path being taken by the U.S., with other Western countries rushing along behind trying to catch up, is not the entire picture. There are encouraging developments in the countries of the former Soviet Union. (2) A new reform movement is underway in South Asia (cf, BLAST and PRI, 2000; PRI, 2000a; PRI et al., 2000b). And a look at Africa shows governments trying to take a different policy direction.

In Western countries, we are indeed seeing trends that are very disturbing for the observance of human rights and the health of democracy. In Australia, for instance, the prison population increased by almost 62% between 1988 and 1998. (3)

The last 10 years has seen a large increase in the number of women in prison, with sentenced women up by 185% and Aboriginal women by 262% (Australian Institute of Criminology, 1999). Furthermore, indigenous Australians are over-represented, comprising almost 20% of the country's prison population, compared with less than two percent of the total population. (4)

New sentencing guidelines have increased the levels of punishment. For example, the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing law requires a custodial sentence for a first-time property theft; the attorney general of New South Wales has noted the disproportionate impact this has had on a young and largely indigenous population:

[The law] has led to bizarre results: an 18-year-old man jailed ailed for 90 days after being found guilty of stealing 90Cents from a car; the mother of a two-year-old child, with no prior convictions, ailed for 14 days after stealing a can of beer and required to serve her sentence 800 kilometers from her community; a 17-year-old with no prior convictions who turned himself into police after stealing yo-yos and computer games from a Darwin toy shop, incarcerated for 14 days (Shaw, 2000).

Australia is not an isolated example. Developments in England and Wales are striking: between 1989 and 1999, the prison population increased by almost 50%, the number of sentenced juveniles (between 15 and 17 years old) by 272%, and the number of sentenced women by 90%. Ethnic minorities are overrepresented in the prison population compared with the national population, at 14.4% and 5.1% respectively (Home Office, 2000). (5)

The U.K. government -- with its slogan "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" -- has already introduced mandatory sentencing under the Crime (Sentences) Act, 1997. This requires the courts to impose an automatic life sentence for a second conviction of a serious violent or sex offense, unless there are exceptional circumstances. It also requires mandatory seven-year custodial sentences for a third conviction for certain drug trafficking offenses and three-year sentences for a third conviction for domestic burglary. …

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