Restorative Justice In Prisons

A prison chaplain contacted me through this web site.  He thinks the prison system is rotten in his country. He had heard that the early church in Celtic-speaking lands had a role in administering justice in many tribal communities.  What can we learn from them today?

I pointed out that the authorities in Celtic lands thought theft, adultery, murder etc warranted punishment.  But when they turned these punishments over to the church, the church thought that the most important thing was to bring about a change of heart in the criminal, who would, through acts of restitution, service and prayer, do something to restore the relationship between the victim (or their family or employer) which had been ruptured by  the crime. 

They linked crimes with the eight deadly sins, and  the justice system with the church's penitential exercises.  The Books of Penitentials were characteristic of Celtic lands. These sought to grow the virtue that matched the vice.  Thus a thief would practice exercises that inspired generority; a murderer would work free of charge for the employer of the murdered person, or provide  goods from his work for the vicitm's family. Sometimes penitential prayer brought tears.

I was invited as a representative of the community outside a prison to the last day of a restorative justice course that had been led by a member of our Community of Aidan and Hilda.  Each soon-to-be-released prisoner read a letter they had written to the person they had harmed or their family, saying sorry and explaining some attribute of restorative justice they had made their own.  I found this very moving.

I am sure that my prison chaplain friend, and Governments and prison officers will do well to implement restorative justice principles throughout the prison services of the world

Posted at 09:22am on 22nd June 2023
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