After retiring; I enjoy doing volunteer work at different organizations and one of my favourite is “John Howard Society”. John Howard was an 18th century Englishman who was captured by the French while sailing from England to Spain. He spent 5 years in French dungeons before returning to England in a prisoner exchange. Upon his return he was nominated as high Sheriff of Bedfordshire and immediately embarked on visiting hundreds of prisons in England, Scotland, Wales and Europe and came up with recommendations to improve the mental and hygienic conditions of the prisoners. His recommendations were adopted by the house of common and implemented across England, then across Europe and North America. Today John Howard society has branches all over Europe and North America with 65 locations in Canada working with youth and senior citizens who committed minor infraction to the law. The police will channel their cases to JHS not to the regular courts. This is a very cost effective way that minimizes the time of judges and lawyers spent in small infractions and concentrate their effort and time on serious crimes. This also help clear some of the backlogs and result in faster handling of cases.
JHS philosophy is to give first time offenders a second chance and integrate them back into the society instead of jail sentences that expose them to hard core criminals and may end up repeated offenders. We have a panel of three volunteer judges who look after a specific case, asking questions about the circumstances of the offence, who did the offence affects and how the offender feels after getting caught. Then the judges will deliberate and give their verdict which revolves around community service, letter of apology, donation of money to a charitable organization or attending a course about theft run by the police. After complying with our verdict we send a letter to the judge and he/she will confirm the verdict and wipe out the criminal record of the offender allowing him/her to work and integrate into the society.
This humane and constructive approach is in contrast to the cruel and outdated Sharia laws (in Muslim countries) of cutting the hands of the thieves that condemn them for the rest of their lives and prevent them from integrating back to the society. The number of crimes in any country reflects its social justice and how this society is taking care of the poor and vulnerable of its citizens. The more egalitarian society the less crimes and vice versa and the numbers speak for its selves: In US the crime rate is 783 per 100 thousand, but only 107 in Canada, while it is 66 in Sweden, 75 in Norway and only 61 in Denmark (with half of the incarcerated are from Africa and middle East or Asia). It is clear that the more egalitarian the society is, the less crimes. I feel sad when I meet people from the Middle east who enjoy going on Fridays to watch cutting the hands or the heads of criminals. It is a barbaric custom than never take into account the mental health or how the offender was desperate to steal to feed himself or his kids. Crimes is in the rise in the ME because more than half the population lives under the poverty line ($1 per day) while it is going down in countries like Holland to the point of closing many jails. Fighting the circumstances of the crime not fighting the criminals is JHS approach and I am glad to be part of that humane system and a citizen of this great country called Canada.
By Mohamed Fetaih