Written by IARS Justice Intern, Faris Wong
The cyclical relationship between crime and social exclusion presents a complex issue to tackle. When approached with the sole purpose of lowering crime rates and not integrating offenders back into the society, it may result in an outcome contradictory to what was intended. The criminal justice system does well in implementing strict laws and passing harsh judgements, but is it really an effective solution if offenders feel more marginalised? The stigma of crime, undeniably, cannot be erased overnight, but excluding such groups will only make the problem worse. How can we then foster kindness, care and empathy in our communities and create a more inclusive society even among the stigmatised? Perhaps the answer lies in restorative justice. Unlike punishment, this approach reconciles victim and offender, allowing offenders to take responsibility for healing the wounds of the victim.
Delinquency can be seen similar to crime in so far as it is worsened by exclusivity. Thus, applying the principles of restoration in the education system would provide a good starting point. In the short run, school exclusions may have a negative impact on students’ academic achievements and social relationships. In the long run, they may influence psychological wellbeing, mental health and employment prospects. Restorative practices in schools not only reduce students being excluded and the likelihood of bad behavior among them, but it also teaches them soft skills and helps nurture values. One way that it is being practiced now in schools is that young children in primary and secondary schools are taking up roles as Restorative ambassadors, acting as mediators in resolving conflict among their peers. While simply dishing out punishments to students may be a quicker way in ‘settling’ disputes, this may result in parties feeling negative about the process. Some of the advantages that restoration has over punishment is that it allows these negative feelings to be addressed in a controlled environment, alleviating tensions between parties. Furthermore, as restoration requires the participation of both offender and victim to be active in the reparation process, it teaches the offender to take responsibility for their actions while simultaneously helping the victim to reach closure. Additionally, it can instill confidence and courage when the offender knows that harm has been caused and purposefully want to make amends. Lastly, as the root of the conflict has to be directly addressed, it allows students to be more reflective and understanding towards others, creating a kinder and a more caring environment.
If we can shift the way we think about what punishment is and how it is carried out in schools, we can do the same with crime and justice in our society. It would be a meaningful goal to create a more inclusive society with understanding, care and empathy at its core.