Why restorative justice, faith-based therapies are keys to crime reduction
Tackling rising cases of crime within communities will require a holistic and measured approach, which must include restorative justice, faith-based therapies, and communities’ support. While restorative justice seeks to compensate or placate the victim of crime, faith-based therapy involves religious groups exposing virtues of decency to those with criminal intents with a view to discouraging them from crime.
The ease at which citizens went on a rampage last week, wantonly looting, maiming, killing, stealing, and setting ablaze public and private facilities exemplify the level of lawlessness, heartlessness, and criminality within society. All the persons involved in the mayhem seem to have no value for law and order. They also have scant regard for any institution (public or private) and strongly believe that they are victims of the State’s negligence, and so, must take revenge on the society. They seem to have lost sense of what is right, just, and humane.
Unfortunately, when these groups of people are apprehended, tried, and jailed, they grow worse post-incarceration instead of being reformed. A number of factors are responsible for this. The system exposes them to more hardened inmates. Also, the constitution provides for their discrimination and stigmatisation after serving jail terms. For instance, Sections 66, 107, 137, and 182 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) disqualify ex-convicts from participating in elections within a period not less than 10 years. This, experts argue, does not encourage reformation, rehabilitation, and reintegration; rather it promotes alienation that births further crime.
The truth is that crime is a multi-causal, disruptive, and destructive social phenomenon, which requires collaborative and synergized intervention to solve. As a psycho-social disease, its treatment must be purposeful, personalized, and measured. According to experts, a kneejerk and adhoc approach is doomed to fail.
For the executive director, Prison Fellowship Nigeria (PFN), Bar. Benson Iwuagwu, the government, and the Nigerian Correctional Service alone cannot do the tripod of reformation, rehabilitation, and reintegration. “There is a place of family, friends, and community, including corporate entities. There should be a deliberate re-entry and reintegration policy that reckons with and encourages participation of individuals and corporate networks of support for the re-entry and reintegration of ex-offenders, including the provision of appropriate incentives and enabling environment, as a crime curtailment strategy.
“The gaol and custodial centres are not enough and will never be. Central to this will be the government’s detoxification of ex-offender, who in the words of Winston Churchill had paid for his sin in the hard coinage of imprisonment. We must make a deliberate effort to assist the 3,751 ex-offenders released during the pandemic to reintegrate. If we do not, we will force them back to their old criminal soul mates, crime and prison,” he advised.
The Nigerian Correctional Service Act (NCSA) 2019, which complements Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, seeks to remedy the mischief of sending all classes of offenders into the same confinement, a practice that, among other social malaise, spurned inhuman custodial conditions and festered criminal socialisation.
In the old dispensation, first time and petty offenders became adepts and got referrals to criminal contacts and syndicates on discharge. They soon get into trouble with the law and are returned to confinement. “The phenomenon is called recidivism, prison shuttle, the vicious wheel, a veritable supply stream of crime and criminality that fuels fear and insecurity, which in turn hamper socio-economic productivity and development,” he argued, adding that other critical investments in infrastructure and human capital are crucial.
Indeed, the NCSA 2019 has many noble provisions that must be complemented with requisite infrastructure. There should be dedicated rehabilitation and vocational centres for non-custodial treatments. A fundamental issue that confronts society today, Iwuagwu pointed out, is the fate and wellbeing of former custodial inmates upon discharge.
His words: “When inmates are released from custody, whether by reason of completion of sentence, clemency or other legal recourse, they face obstacles and impediments that are counterproductive to the values and objects of reformation. This is particularly with respect to stigmatization and discrimination.
“Ostracization and discrimination against ex-custodial inmates are harmful and destructive. Legislations that discriminate against those who have had criminal convictions must be repealed. Even the laws frown at double jeopardy! By discriminating against ex-offenders and ostracizing them, society is simply biting its nose to spite its face and fueling the vicious crime shuttle. Let society help them to re-enter meaningful socio-economic and cultural life again. Otherwise, we inadvertently drive them back to crime and prison and the vicious wheel continues to torment us.”
On account of driving home these points, the PFN in its two-day 2020 virtual National Criminal Justice and Corrections conference examined “Corrections faith-based therapies and communities of support”, with the aim of precipitating social-attitudinal change towards those who are involved in or affected by crime.
The event further aimed at enlightening, educating, informing and mobilizing public and private sentiments for a collective effort, participation, patronage and support in the effort to reform, rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders. Participants also explored ways to promote communal harmony for the common good, peace, security and improved socio-economic productivity.
The Attorney General of Lagos State, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN) believes that community support plays an important role in the rehabilitation process of offenders. As a result, he wants Nigerians to support voluntary organizations with employment, accommodation assistance, recreational and religious materials so as to achieve the purpose of reintegrating ex-offenders.
He also charged Nigerian’s to continue to focus on reintegration strategies of promoting community support through education, publicity, and public involvement. “This is because it is the community at large that will accept the rehabilitated offenders and give them the chance to pursue a new life.
“The reality of the impact of crime is brought to my attention every day by the media and other means of information. These contacts strengthened our resolve to make Lagos state a safer place for people to live and do business. This means ensuring that there is less crime, and less crime means fewer victims. Crime is indeed a social phenomenon, which requires a collaborative intervention. Community support plays an important role in the rehabilitation process of offenders and we must continue to work with and support voluntary organizations,” Onigbanjo said.
According to him, Lagos has already implemented a number of initiatives aimed at promoting non-custodial measures through community service. “And in partnership with Prison Fellowship Nigeria, we are working on a comprehensive strategy for restorative justice in Lagos state. We are open to collaboration geared towards improving the criminal justice system, and to continue to work with stakeholders to bring our objective of ensuring the communities are safe,” he said.
Assistant Controller General of NCS, Mr. Odharo Daniel admitted that faith-based organizations have played a very significant role in the reformation of convicts by working hand in hand with the NCS. Odharo, who represented the Controller General of the NCS, Mr. Ja’ faru Ahmed in the zoom meeting, explained that there have been legal aid activities, which border on restorative justice at its facilities.
President of Prison Fellowship International (PFI), Mr. Andrew Corley, said research has shown that before reformation can take place, it has to involve every aspect of a person. “The more holistic our practices are, encompassing the body, mind, spirit, and soul, the more successful our efforts at reformation, leading to successful reintegration into society.
“The more restorative our justice practices and frameworks are as opposed to punitive practices at local, national and international levels, the better the chances of character reformation, shunning crime, and the better our communities would be. What we do each day is to transform the lives of prisoners, their families, and victims through a global network of ministry partners. Our vision is to break the cycle of crime and restore lives, worldwide, through Jesus’ love,” Corley declared.
For Prof. Olujide Adekeye, faith-based therapy presents an integrated approach to helping inmates achieve wellness by using beliefs and practices of their faith to improve their outcomes. Adekeye, who stood in for the acting Vice-Chancellor, Covenant University, Ota, Prof Akan Williams, regretted that few inmates are benefiting from this therapy due to fewer organisations participating in it. “So others should come and join hands with religious bodies, which are currently doing wonderfully in correctional facilities. We need more volunteers to offer faith-based therapies, as well as faith-based activities and psychological interventions,” he said.
Also contributing, Oba Michael Odunayo Ajayi, suggested that there should be a compulsory requirement that a prisoner should learn at least two vocations to ensure that they don’t come out with anything.
In the area of community support, he also canvassed a compulsory requirement that after a prisoner has been offered some support post-incarceration, there must be some kind of follow-up and monitoring.
In addition, he suggested that within three months after release, Prison officials, organisations and other charity bodies should be mandated to monitor the progress of an ex-convict to see if there is an improvement, whether he has fallen back into crime or needs further help.
Associate professor of law at the University of Lagos, Akeem Bello, in his remark stated that restorative justice has a high rate of success in reducing repeated offences. According to him, there is a cost effectiveness benefit to the community when restorative justice is practiced, rather than the usual traditional criminal justice trial, which involves a lot of resources by the state to establish and maintain the court, among other expenses.
“Restorative justice also has some benefits and promises to the offender, which is an opportunity to make it right, profiting offenders as well as their victims. The process of restorative justice is swift in comparison to the criminal justice system, such that offenders can more quickly make meaningful changes in their lives,” he said.
He however, added that there is a problem of lack of trained and skilled restorative justice facilitators. But this, he said, can be solved by training the judges, defence counsel, prosecutors, and the police on the process of restorative justice, and to train and provide paid restorative justice facilitators at the state expense.
Bello therefore called for the enactment of clearly articulated laws at the state and federal levels that will clearly define the role of stakeholders, prosecutors, police, the court, and defence counsel in exploring restorative justice.
Another lawyer, Dr. Uju Agomo, who is the Executive Director, Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) said there is always a reason for those who indulge in crime. Those reasons, she said, are primarily the things that “we need to look at when we are trying to intervene to promote reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration.”
Her words: “So when we look at these issues, we talk about the history of antisocial behaviour of that particular individual. You are also looking at what kind of personality pattern that fellow has and the psychological aspect because those with antisocial personality patterns have issues.” She suggested that social dimensions, among others, must be examined. According to her, the key thing is to look at the risk factors.
For all that it is worth, it will not be a bad idea introducing restorative justice and faith-based therapy in the corpus juris. Their promise of drastically reducing rising incidences of crime within communities is too fascinating to ignore.
Legislations that discriminate against those who have had criminal convictions must be repealed. Even the laws frown at double jeopardy! By discriminating against ex-offenders and ostracizing them, society is simply biting its nose to spite its face and fueling the vicious crime shuttle. Let society help them to re-enter meaningful socio-economic and cultural life again