Catholic Bishops: Reconciliation should drive Justice Minister’s vision

In advance of Minister of Justice Simon Power’s address today to the Institute of Policy Studies on the future of the criminal justice system, the country’s Catholic bishops are also laying out their vision and key principles.

The bishops say New Zealand’s current rate of imprisonment is unaffordable, does not bring healing to victims or opportunities for reform for offenders, and does not result in a safer community.

In a Drivers of Crime address earlier this year, the Justice Minister said that, “We need to act in a way that produces real and enduring change.”

The bishops’ response is that restoration and reconciliation should be the key principles underpinning and guiding criminal justice, which would help to create a safer society for everyone.

In their recent statement on imprisonment, the bishops say their experience is that requiring offenders to face up to the consequences of their crimes, and giving victims an opportunity to express their hurt, can be a turning point for both parties.

In 1989 the New Zealand Catholic Bishops predicted that unless there was a change in responses to crime, New Zealand was heading to be the most imprisoned society in the Western world. Twenty years later, it has reached the number two position, second only to the United States.

The bishops say that underlying public calls for longer sentences and harsher treatment of prisoners is a punitive approach based on attitudes of revenge and retribution.

What is needed, they say, is a wider understanding and awareness of the human and financial cost of our current ways of responding to crime. Their opinion reflects the views expressed by Chief Justice Sian Elias and Corrections Chief Barry Matthews last week that greater community involvement and understanding is needed.

Next week, all Catholic parishes will be sent material prepared by Caritas - the bishops’ social justice agency - for the Catholic Church’s Social Justice Week focus on Catholic social teaching on criminal justice and reconciliation in September.

Follow the link to read "Revenge or Reconciliation", a recent statement on imprisonment by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.