|Archbishop Sentamu on Prison Reform, Restorative Justice, Community
|Tuesday, September 28, 2010 9:14 pm.
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|The Anglican Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu this evening questioned the deterrent effect of imprisonment, severity of sentencing, the pivotal role of communities and the need for restorative justice in his Prisoners Education Trust Annual Lecture.
Dr John Sentamu
Dr Sentamu said: "We should be pained and troubled by the size of our prison population in Britain, the sheer number of individuals who have given up on community - and feel that community has given up on them. We need to show love and compassion while ensuring justice is served and seen to be served".
In his lecture entitled 'Human Responsibilities, Independent of Circumstances', the Archbishop explained that there is a need to teach young people to value themselves and act responsibly towards others in community, rather than relying on individualistic greed and self-satisfaction. He said: "In modern culture, the rights of the individual are now paramount - but you cannot have these rights without obligations and responsibilities. We need to get back to valuing ourselves and our neighbours - and understanding that there is a cost involved when a crime is committed. A cost to the criminal, a cost to the victim and a cost to the community."
Dr Sentamu outlined that reintegration should be the stated aim of all justice and penal systems; and that a culture of blame and condemnation alienates both the victim and offender. He added that: "We are all too prone to find fault with the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and this becomes our ready and familiar excuse when our conduct is found wanting. We all have to accept the consequences of the law."
In highlighting the role of community service, the Archbishop said: "Putting more and more people away behind locked doors, for longer and longer sentences, does not help society. Neither does it help the individual. What we need is to educate people about how they can be better citizens - not encouraging people to turn their back on society, as some sort of perceived underclass."
The Archbishop described a growing movement in different cities amongst the communities, to stand out against the violence of gangs, and the use of knives and guns. In Churches, there has been the growth of the Street Pastor movement, where volunteers from churches are trained and then commit themselves to going out on the streets at night, being a presence for peace in some of the trouble spots of our cities.
The Archbishop's views on the criminal justice system are based on experiences as a Chaplain of Her Majesty's Remand Centre at Latchmere House, the Stephen Lawrence Murder Inquiry, the Damilola Taylor Murder Review, the deaths of Letitia Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis in Birmingham, and the brutal Idi Amin regime in Uganda.
The full text of Dr Sentamu's lecture follows.
Thank you for inviting me here tonight to give this lecture. May I start by paying tribute to the work the Prisoners Education Trust does with those who find themselves in prison. By providing learning opportunities for offenders in custody, helping to broaden their horizons and assisting them to focus on a more positive life on release, you make a valuable and much under-appreciated contribution to our society. Thank you.
I have entitled tonight's lecture: "Human Responsibility, Independent of Circumstances".
There are many circumstances or contributory factors that may increase the likelihood of someone going to prison. It may be that an individual is born into a life of poverty, in a tough neighbourhood, with few of the opportunities that most of us may take for granted. They may have had a poor education, have poor numeracy and literacy skills, or have little realistic hope of securing a decent job to support themselves and their families. The individual may have alcohol or drug dependency issues, or just have fallen in with the wrong crowd.
These circumstances are tragic in themselves, and let there be no doubt that we all have a moral obligation to eradicate the causes of suffering in our society - whether that be ingrained poverty within our communities or helping those who are suffering with addictions.
However, we cannot simply blame society for the rising numbers we see going to prison each year.
As the Revd Jesse Jackson, a one-time American Presidential Candidate, said, "I was born in a gutter but the gutter wasn't born in me."
Human responsibility is independent of circumstances because we are all created responsible.
We are accountable for what we do and what we are - in spite of all aids or hindrances from outside. Put simply, no matter what our situation is, we all have the freedom to choose how we exercise our liberty and talents.
This is pictorially put for us in the Genesis 3 story of Adam and Eve. "The man said, 'The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.' Then the Lord God said to the woman, 'What is this that you have done?' The woman said 'The serpent tricked me, and I ate.'"
What Genesis Chapter 3 invites us to consider is the question of Human Responsibility.
In verse 13 we read, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat".
The original excuse offered by Adam and Eve, and indeed by all of us, after sinning, was that they were not really free, that they had acted under a constraining influence, the subtlety of the tempter. They disobeyed a command that they might be independent of their Maker; they defended it on the grounds that they were dependent upon Him:
"The man said, 'The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.' And the woman said, 'The serpent which thou created, beguiled me and I did eat' (vv 12,13).
And this has been the course of lawless pride ever since; to lead us, first, to exult in our uncontrollable liberty of will and conduct; then, when we have ruined ourselves, to plead that we are somehow the slaves of necessity - or the victims of unavoidable consequences beyond our control.
John Milton rightly protests when he says that, "No man who knows aught, can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were born free."
We are accountable for what we are and what we do. As George Bernard Shaw put it, (Liberty): "Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it."
Kipling expressed it slightly differently (in conversation with Max Aitken - Lord Beaverbrook), "Power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages."
To seek freedom, power and liberty is, therefore, to seek to embrace responsibility.
For freedom, power and liberty without constraint is not creaturely possible.
We are all too prone to find fault with the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and this becomes our ready and familiar excuse when our conduct is found wanting.
But the systematic disparagement of human responsibility and the consequent substitution of outward events for the inward rule of conscience in judging conduct leads to disastrous results - in the Genesis story this is illustrated by the loss of Paradise.
A lively image of this was created by a primary school child who was asked to make a drawing of the Garden of Eden, after listening to the story of Genesis Chapter 3.
He did this and put a big mansion in the centre of the Garden and, at the bottom of the Garden, a driveway. In the driveway he drew a picture of a Rolls Royce; inside it a chauffeur and two people sitting behind. The teacher asked the child the significance of the car and the people in it. "Miss," he said, "the two people are Adam and Eve; and in the front is God, driving them out of the Garden of Eden."
What this passage from Genesis invites us to consider is the truth that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.
Did you see the story in the press a few days ago concerning Nick Freeman? He is a lawyer know as "Mr Loophole" and is famous for helping celebrities escape charges on motoring offences.
However when his 19-year-old daughter was caught breaking the speed limit, he refused to help her escape punishment from the authorities because he wanted to "teach her a lesson". He argued that he could have found a way for her to avoid a fine and points on her licence, but accepting her punishment would make her much safer on the roads.
He said: "Every fibre of my parental instinct told me that Sophie had to understand the consequences of breaking the law and that speeding can be a serious and dangerous issue."
We all have to accept the consequences of the law. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: "You can't escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today."
Let no-one beguile you: you are responsible to God and to each other. You are your brother's keeper. You are your sister's keeper.
As Mr Freeman proved, you are your child's keeper also. If people concentrated on their responsibilities, others would have their rights.
We are all implicated. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel said, "We must continue to remind ourselves that in a free society, all are involved in what some are doing.
Some are guilty, all are responsible."
Let us not have punishment for punishment's sake, but let us have sentencing that fits the crime and a prison system which helps to educate and rehabilitate. For the Purpose of Punishment is Penitence.
As a former member of the Bar and the Bench, I recognise that some criminals need to be sent to prison (and others should never be released from prison) because of the nature of the crimes they have committed. Prisoners need to be fully rehabilitated and transformed. Even for those who find salvation in God, they must realise there is a human cost to be paid on this earth and in many cases that may mean permanent incarceration.
However there are many prisoners, especially young women, who commit lesser offences who will one day be released back into society. How does our system treat them?
I agree with the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke - and that is not something you will often hear me say(!) - that we need to get away from the Victorian "bang 'em up" prison culture that has been prevalent over recent decades.
Putting more and more people away behind locked doors, for longer and longer sentences, does not help society. Neither does it help the individual. What we need is to educate people about how they can be better citizens - not encouraging people to turn their back on society, as some sort of perceived underclass.
Personally, I like the idea of restorative justice and community punishments for low-level offenders. We need to recognise the personal cost of crime. We need to recognise the damage, hurt and pain crime causes to victims and their families. And we need to recognise the cost to the wider society.
Key to this is our need to understand there are communities within communities. We are not all just individuals free to go off and satisfy our own desires and ambitions, regardless of the cost to others. As John Donne said: "No man is an island". Our actions affect others, not just ourselves.
Perhaps society and community are increasingly difficult concepts for us to take in. There has been a steady drift in Britain since the 1980s towards a situation now where people are driven first and foremost by personal interest and personal motivation. There is no thought for duty, for country, or the needs of others around us. Where has our pride in our local community, local streets, region and country, gone? Is it not true that the light that shines farthest, shines brightest nearest? How can we think globally without acting locally first?
It seems that in modern culture, the rights of the individual are now paramount - but you cannot have rights without obligations and responsibilities.
We need to get back to valuing ourselves and our neighbours - and understanding that there is a cost involved when a crime is committed. A cost to the criminal, a cost to the victim and a cost to the community.
We need to remember that in dealing with the perpetrators of crime, they are members of our own communities, and in wishing to promote restorative justice, we are also attempting to restore health and life within our communities. But of course, this depends on the readiness to approach one another as human beings in a more radical, and perhaps more vulnerable and humble way.
The concept of Responsibility is therefore one which must be re-examined in the light of this new approach.
Traditional criminal law holds wrongdoers responsible. This is a passive conception of responsibility.
Restorative justice has an active conception of responsibility. It is something taken, rather than something to be held to.
Responsibility is the virtue of wanting to make amends in the future for something done in the past. When citizens take active responsibility for their wrongs it is good to give them the gift of mercy.
Restorative justice gives citizens who have done nothing wrong the opportunity to take active responsibility for repairing the harm from the wrongs of others. This is not an easy concept for those suffering from the effects of those wrongs. But it has long been becoming clearer that the causes of crime are not so clear cut as those who want only retributive justice would like.
Restorative justice programmes enable the victim, the offender and affected members of the community to be directly involved in responding to a crime.
The restorative process of involving all parties is fundamental to achieving the restorative outcome of reparation and peace.
The concept of respect and fair treatment needs to be accepted as being appropriate not only for the victims, but also for the offender, for the community and for the law.
It goes without saying that it would be better if people did not become criminals in the first place. We need to teach young people to value themselves and act responsibly towards others in community. But for many they have been brought up in a culture which says there is no such thing as belonging to a community, just individualistic greed and self-satisfaction to get us through.
Community service programmes perform fantastic work. There is one based across the road from where I live. Regularly you can see groups of young people at the weekend meeting to carry out practical tasks in the local community. I think it is important for people to value the community around them and put something back in.
After all, "value" is not just a monetary consideration. We should not be sending fewer people to prison because of financial limitations, we should be doing it because it is morally and practically the right thing to do.
It is ironic that the cost of sending someone to prison is around £40,000 a year - the same as sending someone to study at Eton. What we need to do is think of a better way to tackle the underlying problems that have contributed to the choices criminals make.
Once someone is placed in prison the likelihood of reoffending rises. Once someone is placed in prison we make the process of rehabilitation much harder than if the criminal is tackled with community punishments and fines. However that is not to say that we should give up on those that end up in prison. Far from it. Christians are taught that no-one is beyond hope. No-one is beyond help. No-one is beyond redemption or forgiveness.
We should be pained and troubled by the size of our prison population in Britain, the sheer number of individuals who have given up on community - and feel that community has given up on them. We need to show love and compassion while ensuring justice is served and seen to be served.
My views on the criminal justice system are informed by my experiences as a Chaplain of Her Majesty's Remand Centre at Latchmere House, the Stephen Lawrence Murder Inquiry, the Damilola Taylor Murder Review, the deaths of Letitia Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis in Birmingham, as well as my experience of the brutal Idi Amin regime in Uganda.
We need to consider carefully where is the deterrent effect of imprisonment or sentencing on our streets? Does our nation seriously believe that increasing the severity of sentences would put an end to the shootings? Is an increasing severity of punishment by the state the solution?
Even though there is not always a just solution, it has been recognised that the whole community has to deal with the situation. Following the tragic deaths of those two young girls in Birmingham, young people held a concert in the Aston Villa Football Stadium, with the theme, 'Youth Cry Life, Not Death: Enough is Enough', where thousands of young people came together to affirm their community.
And since then there has been a growing movement in different cities amongst the communities, to stand out against the violence of gangs, and the use of knives and guns. In the churches, there has been, since then, the growth of the Street Pastor movement, where volunteers from churches are trained and then commit themselves to going out on the streets at night, being a presence for peace in some of the trouble spots of our cities.
Keeping silent will not make the murders go away. Justice will prevail in the end. Silence isn't safety. Confession is.
Restorative justice, therefore, is different from contemporary criminal justice in several ways.
First, it views criminal acts more comprehensively - rather than defining crime as simply lawbreaking, it recognises that offenders harm victims, communities and even themselves. Second, it involves more parties in responding to crime - rather than giving key roles only to government and the offender, it includes victims and communities as well. Finally, it measures success differently - rather than measuring how much punishment is inflicted, it measures how many sufferings are repaired or prevented.
The ability to rebuild relationships between those who have been damaged by crime, at a domestic level, or by oppression and injustice as we see on the stage of governments who are attempting this approach, depends on the readiness to approach one another as human beings in a more radical, and perhaps more vulnerable and humble way.
If those who commit offences within a community are removed from it, perhaps never to return, the dislocation that causes can be destructive not only to the future of the offender, but also to the work of the community in its role of restoration.
Then there is the consideration of the practical effects of simple custodial penalties. Our prison populations keep growing. This reflects an ineffective, inappropriate and expensive approach to sentencing. Community orders on the other hand contain elements of both punishment and rehabilitation and are very flexible.
Custodial penalties are hugely expensive compared with community sentences. The conclusion surely is this: prison does very little to tackle why a person offended. Overcrowded prisons are able to do even less. The money saved by a change in sentencing policy could be used to fund programmes that will change the culture of offending and re-offending instead.
A big part of that is education. Education, from the Latin word educare - is to draw out and not to put in. Drawing out the best in the learner and not stuffing their heads with facts. And so we need not only to draw out from people where they have gone wrong, but also, by apprenticeships, to give them the skills for the future.
Within the prison system we need to enable people to realize that it is up to them to make a better life for themselves, legitimately, and build on their fragile self esteem. We need to tackle illiteracy and innumeracy. We need to get alongside those who have fallen short and help them to get back on their feet again, much stronger than they were before - and at the same time, remembering that you can take a horse to water but you can't force it to drink.
Of course, it is common sense to say that criminals should not be rewarded for being in prison.
It is patently not right when we read stories in the papers of institutions that offer inmates things such as cable TV and Playstations, and other non-essential items that many outside of prison cannot afford for their families despite working hard and sticking to the rules.
But at the same time, we need to understand that prison is not just about punishment, it is about rehabilitation. For the purpose of punishment is penitence.
Let us also learn lessons from others. With one of the highest incarceration rates in the world and the death penalty, the US state of Texas seems like the last place that would embrace a magnanimous alternative to prison.
However they have found that in many cases educating is far more successful than incarceration alone.
The Changing Lives Through Literature Scheme (CLTL) is helping to rehabilitate thousands of offenders across the US - many of these people are repeat offenders or perpetrators of serious crimes.
I was reading the story of one individual, a 42 year old drug addict called Mitchell Rouse, who thanks to the CLTL programme in Texas has managed to rebuild his life.
Five years on from his conviction, he is now free from drugs, holding down a relatively well paid job and living at home with his family. He describes being sentenced to this reading group "a miracle". He says the course changed the way he looked at life and made him value his own potential.
Educational courses are not a "soft" option. They are a necessary part of progression, transition and transformation for some prisoners.
These programmes at their best confront offending behaviour and attitudes and provide offenders with skills, training and employment.
Furthermore, in dealing with offenders who have no respect for law or life, simply locking them up, stores up trouble for the future. And the matter is compounded where many crimes are drug related.
In all we do, we need to remember that justice is more than just what goes on in law courts.
For the health of our society we need to ensure that the system we have is one which holds out hope for a different future.
As George Santayana once said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
In forming my views on criminal justice, I have of course been inspired in part by the memory of Lord Longford.
Let me remind you of the values of Lord Longford. A man for whom justice, and a passion to help society's outcasts, inspired him to campaign throughout his life for better conditions in our nation's prisons. From as early as the 1930s he was a prison visitor, and to the end of his life he was still going, two and three times a week, to visit the forgotten and despised in jail.
In the late 1980s, he was contacted by the solicitor for a young Dutchman, convicted of a drugs offence, sent to Albany prison on the Isle of Wight, suffering from Aids and cut off by his family. Longford was the only person to visit this dying man.
This and many other visits like it which didn't make the headlines like some of his other activities, were evidence of a love and concern for the marginalized which brought succour and relief.
He also initiated practical measures to ease offenders' reintegration into society. The New Bridge which he founded in 1955, and which was the first organisation dedicated to ex-prisoners' welfare. In 1970, he established, in New Horizon, the first drop-in centre for homeless teenagers. Until the end, he spent time at New Horizon's offices, caring nothing for the teasing he got from the users, but always anxious to understand what had alienated them from the mainstream.
He also contributed a series of learned reports on penal reform and chaired the committee which, in 1963, recommended the setting-up of the parole system, still the bedrock of the current system.
We need more people like Lord Longford. People with a genuine passion for those who find themselves on the wrong side of the Law. Men and women who will sacrifice their own reputations, and social standing, to help those in need.
Of course, a focus on reconciliation, restoration and forgiveness is not always a popular approach. It often gives rise to misunderstanding and anger from victims or their families - and from the wider public at large. We can see this particularly with Longford's desire for Myra Hindley to be rehabilitated.
But, though it is vital to respect the anger and damage caused to victims, and communities by crime, Lord Longford recognised that traditional retributive justice was not necessarily the most healthy way forward for building a better society, and better relationships, because feelings of anger and revenge, however understandable, serve further to dislocate our ability to relate to one another as human beings.
Anger always blurs the real human features of those we're angry with. If it didn't, no-one would ever be persuaded to violent action. And so often the anger comes from the sense that I'm not being seen as a human being in the first place.
This is what happens to us when our outrage at a crime cries out for vengeance. We do not wish to see the perpetrators as human, as being someone who was a child, not raised to be a criminal, and is even now a person loved by a parent, a brother, a sister, a partner.
And the strength of our desire for vengeance, for punishment often depends on our being able to distance ourselves from the humanity of the person who commits the crime.
I remember the story in South Africa of a mother at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing about her son's murder. The police officer who had ordered the brutal killing was there, shamefacedly listening to the details of what he and his colleagues had done. At the end the room was quiet.
The chair of the commission, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, asked the woman if she had anything to say to the man who had killed her son.
She responded: "I am very full of sorrow. So I am asking you now - come with me to the place where he died, pick up in your hands some of the dust of the place where his body lay, and feel in your soul what it is to have lost so much. And then I will ask you one thing more. When you have felt my sadness, I want you to do this. I have so much love, and without my son, that love has nowhere to go. So I am asking you - from now on, you be my son, and I will love you in his place." And the policeman did become as her son.
As a society, and indeed as a world, we are bound together, and one of the hardest things to do is to deliver restorative justice to the perpetrator and at the same time stand side by side with the victims.
To be redemptive, 'vengeance' must be more than removing the perpetrator, permanently or temporarily - it must provide an avenue for total transformation of the situation. Total transformation means the changing of lives so that the maladies that cause division are eliminated - total transformation based on renewal.
Free pardon does not undervalue the damage caused by our sin.
One of the key points from the Good Friday story is the relationship between Jesus and the two prisoners alongside him on the cross. One of them asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his Kingdom, and as a result is forgiven for his past sins, given new life in the present and hope for the future. He is not given new life because the prisoner is blameless, but because Jesus is. In short we do not get what we deserve, and thank God for that!
Jesus's action on the cross was the supreme example of restorative justice. And in response we must take the responsibility which love and truth lay on us.
The need for a different way has become more pressing, not only because of the practical problems of overcrowded prisons, and rates of reoffending, but because it is recognised both in domestic situations, as well as on the national and international political stage, that an attempt to find an holistic answer is the way forward for the health of our communities and our countries.
We may dispense law but this may not always be true justice. Jesus's golden rule should always be ours: to do unto others as we would have them do to us. And not - "Do it to others before they do it to you!
And what we must never do is take away hope from our prison population, or forget their intrinsic value as fellow human beings.
As the tag-line for The Shawshank Redemption says: "Fear can hold you prisoner, hope can set you free."
We are all called to face the fear within us - not only the fear of the hurt done to us and the way of life to which we have become attached, but the fear also of our own unacknowledged capacity for hatred and division.
To recognise and confront those fears is, for me, fundamental for a civilised society.
A culture of blame and condemnation, alienates both victim and offender. We need to get past this if our desire is to tackle the problems that face our society, and fully reintegrate those who have spent time in prison.
Reintegration should be the stated aim of all justice and penal systems. We cannot help but be aware through the levels of re-offending, or of further criminalization as a result of custodial sentences or punitive sentences that this aim is not being achieved by our present system.
So as we gather here tonight, the question is: What are we going to do to improve the system? It is our human responsibility regardless of our circumstances.
 Abraham Heschel, Vietnam: Crisis of Conscience, New York 1967; also in Pacifism and the Jews by Evelyn Wilcock, Hawthorn Press, 1994, p.169