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Fall 2005 Edition

The Reporter

double line
scales of justice

Community Issues in Criminal Justice

"Prevention, not prisons".
Vision Statement of the John Howard Society
of Alberta

The Evolution of Criminal Justice System
at the Beginning of the 21st Century

In the last Issue of The Reporter1, the issue of an apparent misconception concerning the role of our Courts was discussed. The distinction between Crime Control and Due Process, as set out by Professor Herbert Packer in his 1968 book, The Limits of the Criminal Sanction, was provided as a guide to understanding this misconception.

But while that debate concerning the appropriate role of our Courts rages in the mass media and amongst those adherents of particular political philosophies, a far more fundamental shift in the role of our Courts has already started to occur – largely as a result of the actions of Judges of these very Courts, with the support of provincial and federal Ministries of Justice.

What is happening is that while those who believe the response to the "revolving door" aspect of our criminal justice system is to move to the Crime Control model at the expense of Due Process, the Judges and administrators of our justice system who deal with this on a daily basis have recognized that a system that exists to penalize offenders has had very little effect on changing their behaviour, and absolutely no effect on addressing the root causes of the problems.

As with most of the innovations that have arisen in the administration of criminal justice in last decades, this movement started in the United States with the introduction of "Problem Solving Courts" or "Community Courts". A vernacular has been created that variously refers to the processes in these Courts as "restorative justice", "community justice", or "therapeutic justice" (to name but a few). And as the names for these Courts and the labels for the processes within them imply, the focus of the activities is not the punishment of offenders, but the healing of the harm caused by the offender – the harm to the victims, the community, and to the offender him or her self. Recent examples in Alberta are the Domestic Violence Courts in Calgary and Edmonton, and the Edmonton Drug Treatment and Community Restoration Court.

1 The Role of the Courts. The Reporter, Spring 2005. The John Howard Society of Alberta. Edmonton.

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