Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fighting Crime Or Fighting the Fear of Crime?

One constant source of bemusement and frustration is the apparently growing gap between the public fear of crime and the actual reality. Daily we are bombarded with graphic accounts of increasing numbers of horrific crimes committed by bloodthirsty individuals despite the lack of any convincing statistical evidence for such sharply increasing crime rates.

The traditional Canadian response to crime has never been able to adequately respond to the fear of crime. The Canadian criminal justice system has certainly developed a thorough range of mechanisms and processes to respond to specific incidents and situations of harm but this focus on the past, on the specific facts of a given case and on the determination and prosecution of guilt, does little to build a healthier future for all those impacted. The response to crime is to punish individuals as isolated units, making it more difficult to restore wellbeing and healing to offenders and victims as members of larger communities. So we are caught in a vicious cycle, responding out of fear but in a way that only leaves us more isolated and fearful than ever.

Would it not make more sense to respond to crime in a way that directly addressed the fear of crime at the same time? Here is the beauty of a restorative justice alternative. Fears are addressed through a process of dialogue that shifts the focus from punishment for breaking specific laws to understanding and fixing the harms done. A restorative justice encounter can become an occasion to create understanding between isolated fearful parties and an occasion for a community to come together and take control over its own development.

The growing public fear of crime cannot be reversed through processes which only punish and isolate people more and more. Now, more than ever, we need to promote alternatives that can restore healthy communities and facilitate healthier dialogue, rather than letting ourselves be manipulated by growing fears and growing isolation.

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