The Well – Spring 2011

Elections 2011

Should we invest in prisons, or in keeping people out of them?

Citizens want to feel safe in their communities and to feel that crime is taken seriously. However, there is a widespread lack of confidence in the justice system’s ability to respond to crime appropriately, effectively or in a timely way.

Currently the primary response to crime is punishment in the form of incarceration. Budgets for prison infrastructure have more than doubled in five years (from $88.6-million in 2005–6 to $211.6-million in 2010–11). Future decisions, including the expected construction of super regional prisons, will swell budgets further.

In this issue:

Elections 2011

Farewell to Lorraine Berzins

Victim Impact Programming in Corrections

Book Review: Being Changed in the Sharing

Is this costly agenda really effective? Will it make our communities safer and deter crime?

An expanding body of research here, in the U.S. and in Europe shows that building more prisons and sending more people to prison for a longer time does not solve the problem of crime or meet victims’ needs. In fact, it undermines public safety and is a demonstrably ineffective use of public funds.

There are many “smart on crime” groups engaged in the discussion, who point to problems in the current system, such as the disproportionate numbers of poor, ill-educated and mentally ill people in jails; the lack of health and rehabilitation services both in and outside prisons; the failure to rehabilitate offenders; the inefficacy of prison as a response to all but the most serious crime; and its failure to meet the needs of victims.

Canadians, it seems, somehow understand this: two out of three of them would actually prefer prevention over enforcement. Yet while billions of dollars are being spent to build prisons, resources are being taken away from initiatives that address the circumstances leading to criminal behaviour.

The CCJC is urging Canadians to use the opportunity of this election period to inquire about the allocation of public funds into prison construction as compared with the funding provided for preventing crime, dispensing justice effectively and responding to the needs of victims and offenders. We believe this is an opportunity to examine the effectiveness of prisons and draw attention to pressing concerns about the way Canada administers justice.

Increased incarceration of offenders is an important issue for this election period as it directly affects how public funds are allocated. Commitments to expand prisons could draw money away from social programs, schools and hospitals which are in desperate need of funding.

Increased incarceration of offenders is also an important issue for churches and faith communities as we consider how we respond to those who are marginalized and in need. We are called to be healers and to be voices of compassion.

Questions to consider
Is imprisonment the best response to crime?

  • Prisons separate violent, dangerous and high-risk offenders from society, yet the majority of prisoners are non-violent (78% and 31% in provincial and federal prisons respectively).
  • Most people in custody in provincial jails are awaiting trial or sentencing (57% of people in jail at any time have not been convicted of anything). For some, charges will be dropped; others will be found innocent or not guilty of a crime requiring incarceration.
  • Prison sentences don’t prevent crime, they don’t reduce recidivism or crime rates, they don’t deter crime, and they don’t fully satisfy victims’ needs.
  • Making more crimes punishable by incarceration will make the criminal justice system slower, less effective and more expensive.
  • Prisons don’t cure mental illness. Prisons don’t lift people out of poverty. Offenders who are not given the tools to get out of the circumstances which drove them to crime are more likely to commit crime again.

Should we be investing more money into building more prisons?

  • Money spent on prison is money not spent on the services that prevent crime: employment, health care, housing, education, community development.
  • Crime and justice is not a spending priority for the majority of Canadians – most of us would rather see public funding invested in education, health care and the economy.
  • Investments that prevent crime benefit the public and build strong communities.
  • Community-led alternatives to prison can be implemented at a fraction of the cost of incarceration and with equal or higher success rates.

Do prisons meet the needs of victims?

  • Prisons are not victims’ services. Victims deserve economic and psychosocial support. Prison sentences do not meet all, or sometimes any, of their needs.
  • For most victims, offender’s sentence does not solve the problems arising from being a victim.

During this election period, we have an opportunity to bear witness to our faith and call on our government to direct our criminal justice system in a way which honours our values and respects the human dignity of all.

Questions to ask candidates:

  • Given that more than half of people in prison are non-violent and that more than a third have not been convicted of a crime, will you work toward safe and effective alternatives to costly imprisonment?
  • How will you and your party reform the criminal justice system to be more fiscally responsible and to heal offenders, victims and communities?

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LorraineFarewell to Lorraine Berzins

by James Scott

Initially introduced to the Church Council on Justice and Corrections (CCJC) as a volunteer during the Canadian Christian festival in Ottawa in 1982, Lorraine Berzins brought a wealth of experience and conviction to a staff position in 1984.

Trained as a social worker, Lorraine was working in a Kingston-area men’s penitentiary in 1970 when she was taken hostage. The experience dramatically altered her views of justice, particularly her faith in the punitive approach to crime. Later, those views were reinforced during 14 years at Solicitor General Canada working on criminal justice policy such as offender programs, dangerousness and women in prison.

Her views and experience found a home with at CCJC where for many years she was Coordinator of Research and Analysis, examining the impact of the present system on the lives of those it touches, and seeking pathways of redemptive change. CCJC provided a context in which to integrate her criminal justice analysis with the values of her spiritual journey. For her, the needs of the human being, whether victim, offender or community member, are always central to the search for a justice model that repairs and heals.

Lorraine has been a pioneer in the evolution of the concept and principles of restorative justice. She was the inspiration behind virtually every educational resource developed by Council to engage the churches and Canadians in value-based reflections on the nature of justice, challenging us to envision how we can transform the brokenness brought about by crime by responses that empower individuals and strengthen communities.

Programs such as “Reconciliation: Experiencing Justice”, “Dialogue on Crime and Punishment”, “Family Violence in a Patriarchal Culture”. “Fire in the Rose”, and “Satisfying Justice” are tools for community conversation, reflection and innovative action.

In 2003, Lorraine became the Community Chair of Justice, a position created to foster a new public conversation about ‘what justice is’ and stimulate the emergence of a new justice agenda for communities. This initiative has utilized art, such as the “Justice Storytelling Quilt”, and drama, such as the play “Crime on Broadway”, as vehicles to bring the “smart” justice dialogue to new audiences through new mediums.

Lorraine has been a courageous advocate and prophetic voice, speaking truth to power, challenging stereotypes and “the way we’ve always done it”, asking fundamental questions of governments and systems about the failure of the adversarial model, and witnessing to the conviction that we can do better if only we put people and their needs at the centre of the justice equation. Her contribution to CCJC and to the Canadian “justice dialogue” through CCJC has been immense.

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Victim Impact Programming in Corrections:

A Team Approach to Reducing Recidivism

by Verna Wyatt and Verna Wyatt and Valerie Craig
You Have the Power (YHTP):

“In 1991, my sister-in-law was sexually assaulted and murdered. The impact from that horrendous crime devastated our family and turned my world upside down, setting me on a personal mission to prevent that kind of pain from touching other innocent families.

“If you had told me then that I would someday be working with incarcerated men and women, I would never have believed you. I didn’t like offenders one little bit. I didn’t believe any of them could ever change, and the recidivism rates and my personal experience supported my thinking.

“But about 6 years ago, I had an epiphany that drastically changed my thinking. The Tennessee Department of Correction victim liaison asked me if I would come speak to a class of inmates and share my personal story of victimization. It was a new program that was incorporating victim impact education for the inmates.My first encounter sharing my story was very powerful – for the inmates, but also for me.

“The next jolt of reality came to me when an Assistant Commissioner of Corrections told me, “Verna, 97% of the inmates who are incarcerated are going to be returned to the community. How do you want them coming back?” I had been putting my head in the sand for so long, hanging on to the ideal of “locking them away and throwing away the key.” But now, I was faced with black and white reality – the inmates need attention, not because they deserve it, but because we do.”

Why is victim impact important?

At first glance, it might seem counter-intuitive for victim advocates to work with inmates. However, the truth is, victim advocates and corrections professionals are not adversaries. We actually share a common goal: “no more victims.” Conducting Victim Impact classes for the incarcerated is a team approach to preventing victimization. There have been several studies looking at the effectiveness of victim impact programs across the country. A Iowa Department of Correction report, using two evidence-based studies, concluded victim impact is a contributing factor in reducing recidivism (IDOC Victim Advisory Council, 2007, Victim Impact Classes & Evidenced-Based Practices).

YHTP developed our own Victim Impact Curriculum based on our experience as victim advocates. We’ve learned from our class participants that the majority of offenders never think about their victim as a human being. Many never even think about their victim at all. One of our offender participants told us, “I’ve been incarcerated for over twenty years, and I never once thought about my victim until this class.”

What are the components of a good a victim impact program?

The YHTP victim impact curriculum covers ten topics: accountability, domestic violence, child abuse, drug addiction/drug dealing, DUI, property crime/burglary/robbery, sexual assault, hate crime/gang crime, crimes against the elderly, and homicide. We also talk about the difference between guilt and remorse. This class is not about guilt or making the offender “feel bad.” We want remorse from our class participants. Genuine remorse is a catalyst for changing behavior and making amends. Guilt holds back any kind of progress.

Core issues are discussed in every class because they are the root of self-destructive and criminal behaviors. Addiction, violence, anger, depression, and promiscuity are often mistaken for core issues, when in reality, they are symptoms of core issues. While symptoms must be treated, they are not the root cause of negative or criminal behavior. Offenders must identify the source for their symptoms which is often early exposure to family violence, childhood trauma, or sexual abuse. This is not an excuse for committing crime – offenders must take responsibility and accept the consequences of their actions. There is absolutely no excuse for victimizing behavior. However, there are explanations. And it is very important to understand what motivates negative behaviors if we want to address them.

Knowledge of core issues can help offenders have a “light bulb moment,” realizing they are not crazy or a bad seed. Connecting those dots, they can now work on their symptoms more successfully by tackling the issues driving the symptoms. Because many core issues are tied to child sexual abuse and growing up in homes with domestic violence, we spend more time in our victim impact classes talking about the dynamics of these crimes and the long term impact for the victim.

Victim advocates and corrections professionals must work together to prevent victimization. Prisons and jails are constantly plagued by staffing and budget problems – for most, implementing a victim impact program would be a challenge. However, if we are serious about changing the “revolving door” nature of the correctional system, victim impact is as necessary as substance abuse, life-skills, and chaplaincy programs.

Author info:

Verna Wyatt and Valerie Craig serve as Executive Director and Director of Education for You Have the Power, a crime victim advocacy organization founded by Andrea Conte, former First Lady of Tennessee and survivor of violent crime.They facilitate weekly victim impact classes for inmates at Charles Bass Correctional Complex, Corrections Corporation of America, Tennessee Prison for Women, and Metro-Davidson County Sheriff’s Department. For more information about our victim impact classes or curriculum, please contact YHTP at 615-292-7027, email info@yhtp.orgs or visit

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Book Review: Being Changed in the Sharing

by James Loewen

Meredith Egan and Lisa Smith, Being Changed In The Sharing: The Power of Story and Restorative Justice (MCC Canada, 2010).

“Telling our stories is a powerful process. Like most powerful processes, it can help people when done well, or hurt them if care and attention to best practices are not paid.” (pg 40)

This is the profound truth that guided and inspired Meredith and Lisa to create this very practical resource. The book acknowledges that storytelling is found at the root of every culture, and is the oldest tool for education we have. It explores the implications of the fact that restorative processes, by their nature, encourage the sharing of stories; stories of trauma, stories of empowerment, stories of deeply felt emotion and community.

This book explores the intersection of story-catching and restorative justice. Through interviews with people across Canada in groups and individually, and listening to stories and advice from participants, facilitators and other volunteers, the authors examine community organizing, evolving practices in facilitation, stories of facilitators, and how the public sharing of these stories can be well supported. This excellent resource is a culmination of their experience.

The author’s use of facilitator and participant stories and experience, as well as their thoughtful structuring of the information provides the reader with a diverse and engaging panorama from which to draw new insight into the role of story in restorative justice. The book acknowledges both the strengths, as well as the challenges, of engaging with people’s stories through restorative process. The facilitator’s role in the telling and shaping of the participants stories is explored and insight is gained.

I have found this resource to be easy to read, with the insights readily accessible due to the formatting, which follows the more readable magazine style. The 77 pages provide a fulsome exploration of the concepts while not overwhelming with detail or navel gazing.

Being Changed in the Sharing is accompanied by two electronic resources:

  • New Voices: exploring justice and injustice through creative writing. A complete manual for facilitators who want to lead a 5-session creative writing course on justice. These exercises help people articulate their experiences of justice and injustice, creating space to explore what we, as communities, want from justice, and how we can help get it.
  • Being guided on the journey: a bibliography of useful books, articles, websites, videos, and other media.


All three resources are available on MCC’s website.

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Un lieu de rassemblement pour la communauté du CEJC

Élection 2011

Devrions-nous investir dans la construction de nouvelles prisons, ou plutôt de garder les gens réhabilités dans la communauté ?

Les citoyens veulent se sentir en sécurité dans leur communauté et sentir que l’on prend la criminalité au sérieux. Il y a toutefois un manque de confiance assez généralisé en ce qui a trait à l’aptitude du système de justice à réagir de façon appropriée, efficace et opportune à la criminalité.
L’approche principale à la criminalité est axée sur l’emprisonnement et la punition. Les budgets au chapitre des infrastructures carcérales ont plus que doublé au cours des cinq dernières années (passant de 88,6 millions $ en 2005-2006 à 211,6 millions $ en 2010-2011). D’autres décisions à venir, y compris celle touchant la construction possible de nouvelles super prisons régionales, feront augmenter encore davantage les budgets.
Ces politiques très coûteuses sont-elles réellement efficaces? Rendront-elles nos communautés plus sécuritaires et réduiront-elles la criminalité?
De plus en plus de recherches effectuées ici, aux États-Unis et en Europe démontrent qu’un plus grand nombre de prisons et l’emprisonnement d’un plus grand nombre de personnes pour des peines d’emprisonnement plus longues ne règlent pas le problème de la criminalité ni ne répondent aux besoins des victimes. En réalité, cela mine la sécurité publique et constitue clairement une utilisation inefficace des fonds publics.
Plusieurs groupes prônant des alternatives à l’emprisonnement participent aussi au débat et font état des problèmes du système actuel : par exemple le nombre anormalement élevé de gens pauvres, moins éduqués éduqués ou encore aux prises avec des problèmes de santé mentale et qui sont actuellement incarcéré; la pénurie de services de santé et de réhabilitation tant à l’intérieur qu’à l’extérieur des prisons; l’échec de la réhabilitation de certains délinquants; l’inefficacité de l’emprisonnement à titre de réponse à tous les actes criminels sauf les plus graves ; et son incapacité à répondre aux besoins des victimes.
Il sembler toutefois que les Canadiens comprennent bien la situation : deux citoyens sur trois préféreraient actuellement la prévention à l’emprisonnement. Alors que l’on consacre des milliards de dollars à la construction de nouvelles prisons, des ressources financières sont détournées de projets qui ciblent les circonstances donnant lieu au comportement criminel.
Le Conseil des Églises pour la justice et la criminologie (CÉJC) encourage donc les Canadiens à saisir l’occasion offerte par les élections en cours pour poser des questions sur l’affectation des fonds publics à la construction de nouvelles prisons plutôt qu’au financement de projets visant la prévention de la criminalité, l’administration de la justice de façon efficace et la nécessité de subvenir aux besoins des victimes et des délinquants. Nous croyons que c’est une belle opportunité de remettre en question l’efficacité des prisons et d’attirer l’attention sur la façon d’administrer la justice au Canada.
L’emprisonnement des délinquants pour des peines plus longues est d’une importance capitale en cette période électorale puisqu’il est directement question de l’utilisation des deniers publics. La construction de nouvelles prisons pourrait empêcher les investissements dans les programmes sociaux qui ont désespérément besoin de fonds.
L’incarcération d’un plus grand nombre de délinquants et pour des peines plus longues est aussi très importante pour les Églises et les groupes confessionnels alors que nous examinons nos façons d’aider les personnes marginalisées et celles ayant des besoins criants. Nous nous devons d’être à la fois des guérisseurs et des voix de compassion.

Questions à prendre en considération

L’emprisonnement est-elle la meilleure réaction à la criminalité?

  • Les prisons retirent les délinquants violents, dangereux et à risques élevés de la société, alors que la majorité des prisonniers ne sont pas violents (respectivement 78% et 31% dans les prisons provinciales et les institutions fédérales).
  • La majorité des détenus dans les prisons provinciales sont en attente d’un procès ou du prononcé de leur sentence (57% des détenus n’ont pas encore été accusés de quelque crime que ce soit). Pour certains d’entre eux, les accusations seront retirées; d’autres seront reconnus innocents ou coupables d’un crime n’entraînant pas l’emprisonnement.
  • Les peines d’emprisonnement n’empêchent pas la criminalité, ne réduisent pas les taux de récidive ni de criminalité, ne constituent pas un dissuasif et ne répondent pas complètement aux besoins des victimes.
  • Le fait d’augmenter le nombre d’actes criminels entraînant une peine d’emprisonnement rendra le système de justice pénale plus lent, moins efficace et plus coûteux.
  • Les prisons ne guérissent pas les problèmes de santé mentale. Les prisons ne sortent pas les gens de la pauvreté. Les délinquants qui n’ont pas à leur disposition les outils pour les aider à surmonter les circonstances qui ont donné lieu initialement aux actes criminels ont de plus grandes probabilités de récidive.

Devrions-nous investir plus d’argent dans la construction de nouvelles prisons?

  • L’argent consacré à la construction de nouvelles prisons n’est pas affecté à des services de prévention : emploi, soins de santé, logement, éducation et développement communautaire.
  • La criminalité et la justice ne constituent pas des priorités budgétaires pour la majorité des Canadiens – la plupart d’entre nous préférerions voir les fonds publics affectés à l’éducation, aux soins de santé et à l’économie.
  • Les investissements dans le domaine de la prévention du crime bénéficient le public et construisent des communautés plus fortes.
  • Les alternatives à l’emprisonnement mises en place dans la communauté représentent une fraction du coût de l’incarcération et donnent des taux de succès au moins égaux sinon supérieurs.

Les prisons répondent-elles aux besoins des victimes?

  • Les prisons ne sont pas des points de services pour les victimes. Elles doivent obtenir de l’aide financière et psychosociale. Les peines d’emprisonnement ne satisfont pas tous leurs besoins, et parfois même aucun.
  • Pour la majorité des victimes, l’emprisonnement du délinquant ne règle pas les problèmes liés au fait qu’elles sont victimes.

Élections 2011

Pendant la période électorale en cours, nous avons l’occasion de témoigner de notre foi et de demander à notre gouvernement d’administrer notre système de justice pénale dans le respect de nos valeurs et de la dignité humaine de tous.

Questions à poser aux candidats :

  • Étant donné que plus de la moitié des détenus actuellement en prison ne sont pas violents et que plus du tiers d’entre eux n’ont pas encore été accusés de quoi que ce soit, êtes-vous disposé(e) à promouvoir des solutions de rechange efficaces à l’emprisonnement? Surtout que les alternatives sont moins coûteuses?
  • Comment vous et votre parti vous prendrez-vous pour réformer le système de justice pénale de manière qu’il soit plus responsable financièrement et plus efficace ? Qu’il réponde mieux aux besoins réels des victimes, des délinquants et des communautés ?

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In this issue:

Election 2011

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