CAMBRIDGE/PRETORIA – Tomorrow the eyes of the world will be again on South Africa when Judge Thokozile Masipa in the Northern Cape High Court will sentence the athlete Oscar Pistorius for, among other things, killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013. Will Judge Masipa send him to jail, or not?
Mike Batley, consultant to the Restorative Justice Centre in South Africa, raises the question whether retribution eg punishment is the only way forward or whether there is an alternative: “We need to recognise our pre-occupation with punishment and its limitations. It is certainly not the only way to ensure a person accepts the consequences of their actions or to denounce a wrongful and tragic act: there are other, more creative, tangible and constructive ways to do so. If we believe Pistorius should go to prison, exactly what do we think this will accomplish? “, he writes.
To ask and try answer this kind of question requires for us to start think differently about criminal justice. Does sending Pistorius to prison resolve anything? Batley says, “Retribution, meaning punishment is (…) generally our instinctive reaction and is the main tool in pursuing the other aims. But there are many reasons that this foundation has proved to be ineffective and inadequate. Persistent high levels of crime and rates of re-offending point to this. The offender is placed in an essentially passive role. By itself, punishment also doesn’t address the needs of victims, whose voice and the harm they have suffered does not really feature in these aims at all”.
If we start thinking relationally about justice the focus will shift to the need of repairing relationships damaged by crime, and help to restore one of the most neglected themes at the heart of justice. Relational Justice therefore is about putting relationships at the heart of the criminal justice system — from crime prevention and policing to sentencing, incarceration and probation — by asking the relational question: ‘What will be the likely impact of a decision upon the quality of relationships within the criminal justice process?’ A book that explores this further (“Relational Justice: Repairing the breach”) can be found in our online shop.
Batley in the meantime is exploring what this could possibly mean for Oscar Pistorius and everyone that is involved in this tragedy. Could there be something posititve coming out of this trial that captured the international headlines and dominated many a conversation for the last 10 months? Read his article here.