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The best way to reform Pakistan’s criminal justice system

Pakistan has a high recidivism rate due to its current justice system which, ironically, fails to provide justice to victims of crime. According to Abdullah Ahmad, a restorative approach is needed to reform Pakistan's criminal justice system.

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The measurement of the success and effectiveness of a criminal justice system relies upon a plethora of factors. One of those factors is the recidivism rate which in layman’s terms could be defined as a person’s relapse into criminal behavior after being incarcerated. Higher the recidivism rate, the higher the indication of failure of a justice system and vice versa.

Unfortunately, as a result of the corrupt judicial system in Pakistan, many prisoners easily escape the jails resulting in no set benchmark of recidivism rate but if calculated roughly, considering that the recidivism rates range from 20% in Norway to 80% in the USA, the rate in Pakistan would be approximately around 70%.

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This is extremely worrisome and clearly indicates the failure of our current justice paradigm and a dire need for a new one.

The justice system of Pakistan like many other countries operates on the basis of retributive justice. In the retributive justice paradigm, a crime committed is considered against the state and requires the offender to suffer in return for breaking a law.

In this whole scenario, it fails to provide justice to the victim as they do not get the closure they require to move on in their life leaving them with a lot of unanswered questions like why me? What was my fault? These questions could, later on, turn into phobias and other psychological disorders.

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The only role a victim plays is as evidence of crime against the state. Furthermore, it fails to do any good for the offender too, as the offender does not feel the need to be accountable for what they have done and lacks the realization that how their actions have impacted the lives of victims.

I am definitely not an advocate of the Retributive Paradigm, let alone the relation between retributive justice and the Pakistani prison system.

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Why is Pakistan’s prison system failing?

Pakistan’s prison system is failing and the prominent reasons contributing towards the failure are overcrowded prisons, pre-trial/remand prisoners, and prison radicalization.

In accordance with World Prison Brief, the capacity of our prison system is approximately 60k but instead, 80k are incarcerated. Out of these 80k, 62% of the prison population consists of people that are not convicted and are in the state of Pre-trial/remand.

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Further, as per the ICSR report, there is no segregation between prisoners on the basis of the severity of the crime.

These factors are making the prison system nothing but a comedy of errors and are working as a source of creating more criminals than streets. Thus, increasing the recidivism rate too.

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An alternative to mainstream justice

Restorative justice is a victim-centered approach focused on reparation instead of punishment. In this paradigm, a crime committed is considered against a victim, not the state.

By direct and indirect meetings between the offender and the victim in the guidance of a mediator, provides victims the requisite closure and also make the offender accountable for their wrongdoings, giving them a chance to be beneficial for the victims, eventually, reversing the harm they have done to victims.

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A clear example of the effectiveness of restorative justice and the ineffectiveness of retributive justice are Norway and United States.

The justice system in Norway relies on the concept of restorative justice and has the lowest recidivism rate of 20%, whereas, the US justice system same as Pakistan’s justice system is based on the Retributive Concept and has one of the highest recidivism rate: 76.6% of prisoners are re-arrested within five years.

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How the incorporation of Restorative justice would be beneficial?

Realistically, restorative justice is incapable of replacing mainstream justice completely as restorative justice does not apply efficiently to all crimes. Restorative justice principles are most effective in young, first-time female offenders. However, this is not to say that other populations do not benefit from restorative justice principles.

Overall, despite the limitations of restorative justice, restorative justice principles are crucial and needed to incorporate into our current criminal justice system. It would be beneficial for the country.

Empirical evidence shows that apart from decreasing recidivism, restorative justice practices also increase satisfaction and trust among all parties involved in the crime.

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The juvenile population would not be at risk of getting influenced by prisoners under the chargers of extremism, as the majority of the juvenile cases would be dealt with restorative justice practices outside of the mainstream court and jailing systems.

This would save them from joining gangs and committing severe crimes later on.  A study by a researcher at Sam Houston State University found that:

“Our results generally not only support the effectiveness of RJ (restorative justice) programming as compared to traditional juvenile court processing but also suggest that each type of RJ intervention, even those that are minimally involved, reduces recidivism risk relative to juvenile court proceedings.”

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Furthermore, Dr. Jeffrey Bouffard added that “This pattern of results would suggest that in many cases, it may be possible to use less intensive RJ approaches and still receive promising results.”

Our prison systems are least effective at this moment because of over-population. The introduction of an alternative justice paradigm would lessen the burden on prisons, eventually helping them to be more effective for the population that actually needs to be incarcerated.

The author is a research assistant at a Criminal Justice organization in Canada. He can be reached at abdullahahmadg@gmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

 

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