Testimonies and Crime and Justice
The belief that there is that of God in everyone, whatever they may have done, leads Friends to advocate nurturing this through the rehabilitation of offenders and the provision of restorative justice for those affected. It has also led Quakers to work to abolish capital punishment. Alongside this, Quakers are much concerned with prevention of crime in the first place. The simplicity, peace, truth/integrity, community and equality testimonies all speak to this in different ways.
Simplicity exhorts Friends to adopt an unostentatious life style and to refuse to consume more goods and services than are strictly necessary. The dependence on gratification can be the major factor in drives towards offending and the simplicity testimony seeks to challenge that way of life by offering another.
The peace testimony challenges Friends to be critical of the coercive aspects of imprisonment and to think creatively of ways of responding to crime that are less damaging.
Truth and integrity led many individuals to become prisoners of conscience. They are equally fundamental to restorative justice approaches. These seek to work towards the truth as represented in the experience of those involved so that they may be able to learn about others whilst experiencing that their own story is validated. Truth and reconciliation processes that seek to enable individuals and societies to move on and experience a degree of healing are forms of this. Friends in Rwanda were very active in this after the 1994 genocide.
Community is also a key motivation for advocating restorative justice, as it reminds Quakers that members of the community are damaged by crime. Quakers also have a longstanding concern for the relief of suffering due to famine, natural disasters and war. More recently concerns for situations nearer at home have emerged, especially for homeless, disadvantaged or elderly people and those who are particularly vulnerable, such as political prisoners, those with AIDS and those who are addicted to drugs. All these matters have a close connection to the causes of crime and Friends’ wish to meet needs, rather than punish behaviour.
The equality testimony leads Friends to seek a fairer distribution of wealth, and equal opportunities for employment, education, housing and health services. Fairness in these areas is key to preventing offending and to addressing the underlying causes rather than the symptoms. This witness to equality has been reinforced by the evidence of the pernicious effects of inequality in rich societies set out in Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s 2009 book, ‘The Spirit Level’. The more wealth inequality, the more the crime and the numbers imprisoned, in such societies.