Why is Restorative Justice and the power of apology not fully integrated into our justice system?

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I never seem to stop being baffled by aspects of our society. But more than anything else, I’ve been baffled by the illogic of our criminal justice system since I was able to think for myself. Last night I co-facilitated a Restorative Justice conference that brought it home to me once more how important a role apology has in the process of repairing the harm caused to another.

In so many cases the victim, the most important person within the context of a committed crime, can be hugely helped by the “simple” act of a genuine apology. Isn’t that precisely what we are taught to do as children when we have done something bad? And yet as we grow up and do more seriously bad things, the role of apology is largely replaced by punishment, a revenge of sort that responds to and feeds a victims’s natural and justified anger but contributes little to the easing of their pain. We’ve seen examples of apology countless times in politics: Ireland’s decades of pain-filled longing for an apology from the British government for Bloody Sunday in contrast to the hugely powerful yet simple gesture in Germany in 1970 when Willy Brandt spontaneously knelt at the memorial to the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto. No words were needed and it was accepted by the world as a public acknowledgment of wrong – no excuses, no justifications, just a silent and humble act of apology.

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Is re-habilitation even the right word?

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Stone carving project at HMYOI Reading as part of the Learning to Learn through the Arts Scheme

I feel like Government ministers have suddenly found a new word and are bandying it around like children who think they have discovered it. We are now in a ‘Rehabilitation Revolution’, a Prison Spring of sorts. And of course I welcome it and it is music to my ears to hear ministers finally and seriously presenting measures that are designed to have an impact on the ‘revolving door’ syndrome of our current Criminal Justice System. But something is also making me want to weep.

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