Sri Lanka marked National Prisoners’ Day on September 12 with a Presidential pardon being given to some 2000 prisoners who were in jail for minor offences or were more than 70 years of age. This came amid a crisis of severe overcrowding in prisons where in some instances as many as seven prisoners are packed into a cell made for one. This has caused severe anxiety if not mental problems and various infectious ailments such as skin diseases.
According to Prisons Commissioner General Chandraratna Pallegama, there are about 27,000 prisoners in 27 prisons in various parts of the country with more than 13,000 of them being remand prisoners who are languishing in the cells till the usually long-drawn and complicated court procedure is completed. Social welfare activist like Archdiocesan Chaplain Rev. Fr. Hilary Peiris and human rights lawyer Kalyananda Thiranagama also believe there is a large number of prisoners who are suffering in the cells because they are unable to pay the fines imposed on them for civil offences, while their families languish in varying degrees of degradation and destitution, because they are socially outcast and have little or no means of earning a livelihood.
The Commissioner General said serious problems like drug peddling among prisoners, prisoners using illegal equipment like mobile phones and rights violations among prisoners were dangerously high due to the overcrowding. Prisons and Prison Reforms Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera told parliament recently that of about 25,000 offenders being sent to the prisons every year, as many as 43 percent were repeat offenders. He said the solution to this crisis was a proper rehabilitation process.
In many countries and especially in South Africa after the white minority dictatorship was peacefully overthrown, the legendary President Nelson Mandela appointed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring about restorative justice instead of retributive justice. Essentially it was a process through which apartheid leaders who had committed various crimes against the black majority population were given the opportunity to publicly confess the truth of what they had done and in turn they were given an opportunity to be reconciled with society instead of being piled up in jails.
" This came amid a crisis of severe overcrowding in prisons where in some instances as many as seven prisoners are packed into a cell made for one "
According to Molly Rowan Leach, a Restorative Justice Fellow to The Peace Alliance and host of the popular ongoing web/telecast dialogue series, Restorative Justice On The Rise, the US Attorney-General Eric Holder’s decision to curb mass incarceration, could lead to restorative justice transforming America’s prison-industrial complex.
The role of justice, as portrayed by Lady Justice’s scales, is to bring back balance, to make things right again. Punishment and the warehousing of human beings in prisons destroy vast amounts of human potential. By contrast, restorative justice meets the needs of everyone involved in the most humane ways possible – those who commit crimes, and those who suffer from them. In so doing, it brings humanity back into the justice system. It converts a limited worldview based around isolation and individualism into a much more positive vision that is rooted in honesty, accountability, and the visible connection of causes with effects. And it works in concrete terms by cutting recidivism and costs. Most important of all, it nurtures new relationships and a strong sense of human unity. In this sense, the root power of restorative justice is love, expressed in action, Molly Rowan Leach says.