Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Commentators on Criminal Justice

There is a strong Quaker tradition of writing about criminal justice issues, though there are many diverging views. There have been Swarthmore Lectures concerned with justice issues. Tim Newell’s Forgiving Justice (2000) signposted a possible way ahead in practice and understanding, and the ideas behind restorative justice were outlined in Mending Hurts by John Lampen (1987).

The Penal Affairs Committee and British Friends decided in 1968 that the time had come to challenge the Society’s assumption that, as long as reforms were pursued as in the past, imprisonment was acceptable.  In 1970 Why prison? A Quaker View of Imprisonment and Some Alternatives was published, urging Friends to consider fundamentals rather than simply mitigating the more superficial faults of the system. The victim was to be considered more centrally but only as part of the reform of prisons and their slow abolition. In Six Quakers Look at Crime and Punishment (1979) David Wills and others set out to show that punishment is inconsistent with our peace testimony and that we should work at all levels to create a ‘non-punitive society’. There was no general acceptance of the practicality of working towards this ideal within the Society after its publication or in 1985 when the subject was looked at again. Both the compilers of Quaker Faith and Practice (1995) and many Quakers have expressed disappointment at that publication’s failure to draw together a view about criminal justice ‘because Friends are still searching for a corporate view’.

Mike Nellis’ Rowntree Fellowship experience in 1997 renewed the search for a testimony about ‘community justice’. In his travels and writings he has awoken the concerns of many groups and of the Society at the centre in establishing further thought and action on the subject of revitalising penal reform. He developed the important concept of community justice. He linked community safety (the political goal of the current administration), with restorative justice (a challenge to the adversarial system and the possible scape-goating it causes) and hostility to custody (a concern Quakers have had for much of the past three decades). This composite view of the complexity of the interrelatedness of ideas and issues can lead us to a greater awareness and eventually a more effective capacity to act. The emphasis upon local action from community justice groups through restorative justice approaches could have a major impact within the Society. It could channel our concern into effective local initiatives which are already being driven through but which would benefit greatly from our spiritual perspective. It is this combination of faith and action which has great possibilities for us and which can be seen through respected examples of development.

The setting up of a Crime and Community Justice Committee in 1997 builds on the emerging wish in the Society to seek a common view. This group seriously considers the ideas of community justice, with its emphasis on the opportunities afforded by the developing interest in restorative justice in action. The committee also reviews the work of communities establishing local crime prevention strategies and Youth Justice Panels following the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998. A call for Friends to become involved at local level in such initiatives reflects the work of Mike Nellis in establishing local Crime and Community Justice Groups within several Area Meetings.

The Quaker United Nations Offices located in Geneva and New York (QUNO) represents Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quakers), an international nongovernmental organisation with General Consultative Status at the UN. QUNO works to promote the peace and justice concerns of Friends from around the world at the United Nations and other global institutions. It is supported by the American Friends Service Committee, Britain Yearly Meeting, the worldwide community of Friends, other groups and individuals. Recently QUNO has produced an influential paper on Women in Prison. There has been continued pressure against the death penalty and papers that support the growth of restorative justice across the world.

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Further Reading and Credits

Further reading
  • Tim Newell: Forgiving Justice (Word doc)
  • John Lampen: Mending Hurts, Swarthmore Lecture, Quaker Home service, 1987
  • Six Quakers Look at Crime and Punishment, Quaker Home Service, 1979