Parole and restorative justice
The Restorative Justice Act, now being debated in the House of Representatives, introduces new concepts and challenges into our society, including the introduction of the parole system. In order to effectively implement the restorative justice measures, the input of everybody in society is crucial.
The discussion on the introduction of restorative justice measures in our system was first made following the publication of a White Paper by the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs in February 2009.
The basic principles of restorative justice are that when a crime is committed there are primarily three parties that are directly affected: the victim, the offender and society at large. The commission of a crime affects society at large – through fear, uncertainty and apprehension. Such apprehension may be appeased when the offender is caught and convicted. Yet, how many stop and think that, unless one is imprisoned for life, the offender will one day return to society?
The new Restorative Justice Act proposes the introduction of structures and measures that are necessary to address the victim, the offender and the community at large. The new structures include the setting up of a Victim-Offender Mediation Committee, an Offender Assessment Board, a Parole Board and a Remission Board.
The introduction of parole understandably causes a lot of apprehension among the public. Parole is implemented in a variety of ways in different judiciary systems. The proposed law addresses these three stakeholders.
The major provisions in the new law are:
The division of responsibilities between the probation services (that will be responsible for parole and victim support) and the correctional services (that will address the care and re-integration aspect of the offender).
The setting up of new boards, namely:
The Offender Assessment Board, responsible to design a care plan for prison inmates and to make recommendations to the Parole Board;
The Parole Board, an autonomous body responsible to decide whether to grant parole or not to the eligible inmate when the eligibility date is due;
The Remission Board, responsible for deciding on the award, forfeiture and awarding back remission days forfeited;
The Victim-Offender Mediation Committee, responsible to provide mediation as a means of reparation for both the victim and the offender. A shift in the correction services from one based on punitive measures to one based on incentives for those offenders by means of a care and rehabilitative programme devised for them.
Perhaps the most significant change is the introduction of parole. Since this involves introducing a new concept in our criminal justice system, it is important to elucidate the concept and implementation of parole in our system.
The word parole originated from the French word parole, meaning “voice” or “spoken word”, which was associated with the release of prison inmates based on the latter giving their word of honour to abide by certain restrictions.
Parole was introduced in justice systems as an incentive for prison inmates not to commit another crime.
Parole should not be confused with probation. Parole is serving the remainder of a sentence outside prison whereas probation is given instead of a prison sentence. When given a “parole licence”, a condition or a series of conditions is/are imposed on parolees and failure to abide by any of these conditions results in their re-incarceration to serve the remaining period of their prison sentence.
The introduction of parole in our system is based on the notion that community can trust and re-integrate a prison inmate into society. In order to achieve this, however, the offender needs to understand he has done wrong, he is prepared to make good to the victim any damages caused, and his time in prison will be well spent in learning new skills and competencies necessary for him to re-enter society as a better citizen.
The granting of remission (that is, a reduction in the prison sentence), which, before the introduction of the new law, meant an inmate had one-third of his prison sentence forfeited mainly due to good conduct, will also undergo a major change.
If an offender opts for remission after serving two-thirds of his prison sentence, he will be assessed by the Remission Board and, in granting remission, the board may impose certain conditions. Failure to abide by these conditions will result in his re-incarceration to serve the remaining period of the original sentence.
The introduction of the new Restorative Justice Act is a bold step forward in our criminal justice system.
We need to start looking at a criminal offence with a new lens, one that has a wide angle, eliminates bias and is forward looking. The new law contemplates new principles, structures and work processes but, most of all, it entails a cultural shift from a punitive perspective to one based on the restoration of the damage caused by a criminal offence.
The author is projects leader at the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs.