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    With a Vengeance

    Should some crimes have no possibility of parole? April 20, 2015 by Major Juan Burry
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    In late January, the federal government announced it is crafting legislation that would mean some criminals will have no hope of freedom from prison. The new law would apply to a few classifications of those imprisoned for first-degree murder, such as killers of police and prison guards, anyone who murders during a sexual assault, kidnapping or act of terrorism, and for particularly vicious homicides. The punishment today for first-degree murder in Canada is a mandatory life sentence, but with the possibility for a parole board review after 25 years. A person with such a sentence who is granted parole must be supervised for life.

    While I agree with the notion that some people may never be safely reintegrated into society and we should protect our citizens from them, this announcement bothers me for several reasons. First, the law seems unnecessarily broad. Does the prime minister think that everyone who commits a crime like this is beyond hope of rehabilitation? Perhaps some are. As a society, are we unwilling to acknowledge that people change, that after 25 years an offender may be a different and better person? Certainly as Christians we believe in the possibility of transformation and a life turned around by repentance.

    But what I find most troubling is that I cannot see any solid rationale for introducing this law. It will not make our communities safer. After overseeing a federal halfway house program for four years, I can attest to the fact that parole boards turn down the worst cases. Offenders who are released have been identified by the board as having a strong potential to reintegrate into the community. Most offenders, such as those pinpointed by this new legislation, would have an extremely low rate of recidivism.

    Neither are there economic benefits to this proposal. While working in the halfway house program, I often heard that the cost of keeping offenders in prison was about four or five times more than the cost of housing them in a community residential facility.

    I cannot help but feel there is a degree of vengeance underpinning this new bill. Our crime rates have been steadily declining over the years, yet we are to believe that Canada must get tougher on crime. If it is not necessary for financial reasons or because of concerns over decreasing safety, we must conclude that it is retaliatory. Perhaps what we have here is the re-emergence of the old “eye for an eye” mentality. I understand how violent crimes incite our passions. When someone acts inhumanely toward another person, often our reaction is to want them to experience something similar. I see this idea repeated in social media posts and pictures. Surprisingly, I notice that sometimes Christians are the ones affirming retribution.

    But retributive methods do not work. Nor are they promoted by Christ. I like how Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus' words: “Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' … No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously” (Matthew 5:38-42 The Message). That helps put this into our contemporary context. What does it mean to live generously? It is difficult to think of being generous to a person who has committed a violent act. But if we are only generous to our friends or those we like, what kingdom value is in that (see Matthew 5:46-47)?

    In Canada we have a criminal justice system, not a criminal vengeance system. The way we deal with people should be fair and appropriate for the crime. But we should never lose sight of the fact that all people are made in the image of God and have worth and dignity. Most Christian people in this country have no appetite for bringing back the death penalty. However, ensuring that a segment of society is condemned to a life devoid of hope, no matter what potential they may have, is only different from the death penalty in that it is a slower demise. Shouldn't the church speak out and tell the government that vengeance is not ours? Don't we want something better?

    Major Juan Burry is the executive director of Rotary Hospice House in Richmond, B.C.

    Comment

    On Tuesday, April 21, 2015, Kathie Chiu said:

    In my humble opinion, I don't think the issue is about vengeance as opposed to an anticipated election and pandering to the base of the conservatives. Tough on crime initiatives always go over well with ultra conservatives. However, what this new policy is doing is the government cutting off its nose to spite its face. No one who mutilates a child ever gets out, and those of us who have worked in halfway houses all agree that is the right way to treat violent and psychopathic criminals.

    However, the government cut a pilot project that showed statistically worthy to fund - for a relatively small amount of money a year. It depended on volunteers who had successfully reintegrated into the community and stayed on the right path, to mentor new inmates coming out into the community. No one wants someone serving 15 years to be shown the door on the day of their release and left to their own devices. But that is what the government seems to want. Serve their full sentence. Statistics show that early release with slow and supervised reintegration into the community helps the inmate get used to being on the outside and the keeps the community safer. These inmates are at lower risk to re offend when they've had a gradual release.

    Somehow it seems that Canadians have been fooled into believing that we're all safer off when we're tough on crime. Somehow we feel unsafe in spite of the dropping overall crime rate. However, the opposite is true. When we have good programs in place to rehabilitate inmates, slowly reintegrate them into the community - we are all safer.

    Thanks, Juan, for another great article.

    Kathie

    On Tuesday, April 21, 2015, John Stephenson said:

    Vengeance, as Joy Noseworthy, states is not for us. But proper sentences for those who commit crimes are a needful thing. Society has the right to exact a time out of society as a punishment for crime. And while that person who committed the crime is in jail or prison they cannot commit a crime so it does affect the crime rate.
    While in custody prisoners may realize that there needs to be changes made in their lifestyles when they are on the street. They may even come to a knowledge of the saving power of Jesus Christ and join the Forever Family. While that is a positive thing to happen it does not and should not be a reason to change the sentence.
    We must remember that the salvation we receive from God through Jesus's death does not in any way mean that the present penalty for our actions is halted.
    I do believe that their are systemic issues that need to be addressed regarding the roots of crime as well as measures put in place to provide what is needed for a good life for all but we will still need a correctional system to house those who break the laws of society.
    As an aside, I can remember on more than one occasion when talking with an inmate asking questions relating to why they were in jail that day and following that with questions regarding common factors for each time they were in jail or committed a crime. At times the light comes on and an inmate realizes the changes needed. That is a positive experience for the inmate as well as for the Correctional Officer who has him/her on his case load.
    I speak to this issue as one who worked in the system for 21 years both as a working Correctional Officer and then as a Manager in an Institution and the last years working for the Director of adult Corrections.
    Yes to justice and proper punishment with no place for us as individuals or society to be doing this out of vengeance.

    On Tuesday, April 21, 2015, Joy Noseworthy said:

    Vengeance may not be ours but justice is. How can someone "pay their due" for torturing and killing a child? They may be a different person and if they are they would realize that they may be forgiven but they can never undo the crime. If they want to be released then they have not changed enough. Leave them in there NO PAROLE. No hope for a future just like they gave the parents no hope.

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