The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Thursday 22 February 2018

Prisons: Retribution or Rehabilitation? (Part 2)

Last week I promised an alternative to prison in this blogpiece.  Before doing so, I want to recap with two observations.  First, most of those in prison are there for “crimes” that are not of a violent nature.  Second, prison does not rehabilitate or reform.  Indeed, a spell of time in jail is more likely to make the prisoner “better” at what they did that got them imprisoned in the first place.

That said, the practice of restorative justice has been experimented with and practiced in many parts of the world over the past few decades.  I have worked in the restorative justice area for a few years and have discovered seven lessons in that experience.  This blog talks about three of these lessons.  Next weeks blog will speak of the other four.

Brief Overview

In some ways, restorative justice is a very old practice which was superseded by a more retributive approach, at least in western styles of justice, over the past millennia or so.  More recently, certainly since the 1990s, restorative justice ideas and practices have begun to be re-introduced.  The indigenous peoples of New Zealand (Māori) and of North America incorporated restorative styles into their justice systems.  Mainstream justice systems then began to take note and in 1990 the book Changing Lenses–A New Focus for Crime and Justice by Howard Zehr shifted the lens of justice from a retributive one to a restorative one.

So, what is restorative justice and how does it differ from retributive justice?  The traditional system of justice throughout most western democracies is based on the belief that crime is an offense against the state and that the state must intervene to mete out justice and punishment.  Restorative justice, however, views crime as harming individuals and the community and/or the relationship between them.  It recognises that people - victims, offenders, and the community - are hurt by an offence.  Restorative justice attempts to repair the breakdown in these relationships and seeks to find ways to reduce re-offending.  It does this by bringing offenders, victims, supporters of both victims and offenders, and members of the community into a facilitated space in which all participants are encouraged to share their pain, hurt, fears, or disappointments.  From this sharing a plan emerges that becomes the offender’s community-based sentence. It is a plan that is agreed upon by all, including the offender(s) and the victim(s).

Seven Restorative Justice Lessons (1-3)

1. Remorse is Real.

People tell me that it is easy to express sorrow for a crime after the fact.  It is “just too easy” they tell me to look back in hindsight and say “I am sorry for what I did.” However, such glib reflections are also far too easy to express.  The reality that I experienced is that most often offenders are truly sorry for their actions and feel a deep sense of remorse.

Before every conference I met individually with every participant.  As I sat opposite offenders I looked into their eyes and most often I would see pain, grief and remorse. I could see it also in the way they clasped and unclasped their hands. I could hear it in the way their voice stuttered and they grasped, desperately sometimes, for words to adequately express their feelings or thought processes.

I recall one conference in which the offender was charged with assault and damaging property. The offender in this case was a young man who was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. When it came to putting together a plan for him there was discussion about him doing some voluntary work at the victim’s business. However, the victim was reluctant to do this as it would mean that the people who worked for the victim would be put out of work. During the conference it became known that the offender had a passion for tropical fish (many with Aspergers become very passionate and knowledgeable about a specific topic or interest). It was suggested that he could clean out the fish tank at the victim’s business. Immediately, his eyes lit up and I could see that he was thinking “yes, this is something I can offer back, and something I have an expertise in.” This desire to give back clearly stemmed from feelings of remorse, and he wanted to find a way that he could repair the harm done.

2. Healing Happens.

As I sat with each individual participant before bringing them together into a conference, the most common feelings that all expressed, whether they were victims, offenders, or the supporters, were ones of fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and yes, often anger. I would listen to their story, with empathy and without judgment. I would reassure each and every one of them that they would be able to tell their story in the conference. Victims would be able to look at the offender and tell them of the harm done to them and how this affected them, their families, their work colleagues, or others. Offenders would be able to apologise to the victim and others if necessary. All participants would be listened to and heard.

By the end of, often, a two hour process those feelings of fear, anxiety, uncertainty and anger, were largely dissipated and a healing for all had begun. Victims felt heard, often for the first time since the incident. Offenders too, felt that they had been able to tell victims about how troubled they had been by holding onto their remorse.

3. Forgiveness Follows.

Desmond Tutu1 notes that forgiveness is not a throw-away absolution of responsibility. Forgiveness, for him, does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean the process is easy. I have witnessed many tears in the conferences I have facilitated, and must admit, came close to shedding them myself on occasion. I did not count how many times that by the end of a conference the victim would approach the offender and offer to shake hands. I would guess though, that it would be in at least 90% of cases. In one very moving conference, the wife of a man who had been assaulted, walked across the room at the end of the conference and hugged her husband’s assailant and wished him well. If that is not an act of forgiveness then the word is an empty one.

Although the phrase, “I forgive you,” may not be uttered much in restorative justice settings, the intention is certainly present. When forgiveness is offered in this way the person who benefits most can be the victim, or victim supporters. In the expression of forgiveness they are released from a trap of anger and grief. Russell Marks2 notes that often the media (particularly tabloid style media) and other punitive commenters risk keeping victims trapped in an endless cycle of anger and grief, by insisting that they (the victims) should remain angry at the offender(s). Forgiveness, however, allows a victim to step out of this trap and to find a healthy way forward. And, I have seen this happen time and time again within restorative justice conferences.

Next weeks blog will look at the other four lessons: 4. We All Make Mistakes, 5. We Are All Human, 6. There Is Always A Bigger Picture, and 7. People Are Generous.

1. Rev Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving, William Collins Books, 2014.

2. Russell Marks, Crime and Punishment; Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System, Redback, Collingwood, Victoria, Australia, 2015. Russell Marks worked as a criminal defence lawyer and is an honorary associate at La Trobe University.

Thursday 15 February 2018

Prisons: Retribution or Rehabilitation? (Part 1)

More than 11 million people are imprisoned worldwide.  Almost half that total are behind bars in just four countries: the US, Russia, China and Brazil.  With one in 690 people worldwide behind bars it is worth asking: do prisons work?

That question, however, begs a prior question.  What is it we want prisons to do?  There seems to be four broad answers.  We may want prisons to do one, or more, of the following:
  1. Be rehabilitative and reform prisoners.
  2. Be retributive and punish offenders.
  3. Deter future possible prisoners.
  4. Keep society safe from “unsafe” prisoners.
Your answer to this question, of course, depends upon your personal world-view, your cultural setting, and even your own propensity towards behaviour that may lead to jail.

If the purpose of prisons is to reform and rehabilitate, or to deter, then they are blatantly failing.  Prisons, by and large, do not reform, do not rehabilitate, and do not deter.  Indeed, prisons may be doing exactly the opposite.  Prison may be making it more likely that prisoners will continue with their “anti-social” activity, and may even become “better” at doing so.

A study published this month (February 2018) is pertinent.1  Studying a group of prisoners in the Netherlands, researchers found that after 3 months imprisonment, risk-taking in prisoners significantly increased, attention significantly declined and self-control significantly deteriorated.  The researchers noted that this deterioration in self-control could “exacerbate the risk for aggressive or violent behaviour in high-risk individuals.” 

Hardly a recipe for rehabilitation or reform.

It should be noted that this research does have limitations.  The sample size was small (37 prisoners), there was no control group, and it was carried out in a specific cultural setting (the Netherlands).  However, it is the first exploratory look at the effects of prisons (an impoverished setting as the researchers note) on the self-control functioning of prisoners.  The researchers recommend further studies.

This research, though, does serve to make us stop and ask: do prisons rehabilitate, reform, or deter?  The indications are that the answer is – NO!

If we are locking people up at a faster and faster rate (as we appear to be doing), then one of two things seems to be happening.  Either people are displaying increasing levels of “anti-social” behaviour (i.e. the crime rate is going up); or we are locking people up because we want to punish to a greater extent, possibly for lesser and lesser violations of acceptable social behaviour.

Consider that many prisoners are in jail for crimes that not related to physical harm to another person.  In the US for example, approximately half the prison population are there for drug-related crimes.  In Australia, homicide and armed robbery has decreased significantly in the past three decades (although assault and sexual assaults have increased to a lesser extent), yet the rate of imprisonment has increased.  Consider too, that a highly disproportionate number of people in jails are from indigenous populations or minorities that are discriminated against.

It would appear, from a cursory look at the statistics, and from the small amount of research, that prisons do not reform or rehabilitate.  They may not deter either.  The reading of statistics relating to incarceration rates and violent crime are ambiguous.  Certainly there is a correlation between the two.  But, as we know, correlation does not imply causation.  It is possible to read the stats two ways.  It is possible to infer that as incarceration rates increase, violent crime decreases.  It is also possible to infer that despite violent crime rates decreasing, incarceration rates have increased.

There is, of course, a further factor for us to consider.  That is, the cost of imprisonment.  Throughout the western-styled nations the cost of keeping one person in jail for one year ranges from about US$50,000 to US$80,000 or more.  Yet, even that figure is only the tip of the iceberg.  A Washington University study found that for every dollar of correctional costs, a further ten dollars in social costs are generated.2

That is worth repeating.  For every dollar spent on imprisoning someone, ten more dollars of social costs are incurred.  So, the true cost of incarceration could be as much as half a million to a million dollars per year for every person imprisoned.

The question now is this:  if prisons do not reform or rehabilitate, or deter, is the cost worth it in order to satisfy our collective need for retribution or revenge?

Part 2 will look at an alternative to prison.

1. Meijers, Harte, Meynen, Cuilpers, Scherder, Reduced Self-Control after 3 Months of Imprisonment; A Pilot Study.  Frontiers in Psychology, February 2018, Vol 9, article 69

2. McLaughlin, Pettus-Davis, Brown, Veeh, Renn, The Economic Burden of Incarceration in the US, Working Paper #AJI072016, Washington University in St Louis, October 2016.

Wednesday 7 February 2018

What Are We Afraid Of?

Lets face it.  One of our biggest motivators is fear.  Fear is not our only motivator, of course, but we’d
have to admit it is a pretty big one.  And our classic response options to fear are – fight, flight, or freeze.

So, when we look at the world what do we see and what do we fear?  All of us will have differing answers, but some that come to mind on the global scale might be terrorism, war, climate change, biodiversity loss, inequality, corporate corruption, or refugee crises.  Closer to home it may be domestic violence, homelessness, or drug/alcohol abuse. 

In 1974 the authors of the ground-breaking book/study Limits to Growth,1 noted a correlation between what people were concerned with and their proximity to it geographically and in time.  The further away the issue, the less concerned people tended to be.  The more into the future the issue, the less concerned we can be.  Even things that may affect our children adversely in their lifetimes often are of less concern than something happening next week, or in our street.

We can also be more concerned about something if it happens suddenly, rather than if it unfolds over a long period of time.  For example, our fear is amplified by a gunman firing at random in a street, yet our fear of climate change is diminished.  One happens suddenly and occurs over a short space of time.  The other unfolds over many years and continues on over a long period of time.  See the diagram below.

It is little wonder then that public policy debates relating to community safety tend to focus on those events that happen suddenly, with little attention given to the safety that is threatened by events that unfold over a long period of time.

The psychology involved here is undoubtedly complex.  I am not a psychologist and hence, I have no insight into how to work with this.  If any reader is aware of any research into this conundrum, then please share it.


1. Meadows, Meadows, Randers, Behrens III, Limits to Growth, Universe Books, New York, 1972