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January 20, 2009

"The folly of native sentencing circles"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting commentary from Canada's National Post. Here is a provocative excerpt:

One often hears sentencing circles spoken of as if they were an ancient feature of aboriginal civilization. In fact, the term was popularized only in the 1990s, when academics and government officials began blaming high rates of native criminality on a "white" criminal justice system that alienates natives with its focus on Western abstractions such as "justice," "guilt" and "punishment."

In 1996, the federal government began funding sentencing circles as part of its newly announced Aboriginal Justice Strategy, and amended the sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code to provide special treatment for aboriginals -- later justified by the Supreme Court of Canada on the dubious basis that "many traditional aboriginal conceptions of sentence emphasize the notions of community-based sanction and restorative justice."

"[An] emphasis on healing rather than punishment is very much in harmony with traditional notions of native justice," wrote one academic in a typically earnest, award-winning report on the subject. "The aboriginal concept of the medicine wheel teaches that everything is interrelated and evolves in a circular pattern. An aboriginal community is a circle that is broken when a wrong is committed."

Like so much else that is written about natives, this is high-flown noble-savage nonsense -- part of an ongoing intellectual campaign by white researchers and jurists to project their own utopian reveries on dimly understood native cultures. Not surprisingly, sentencing circles have done nothing to help alleviate native suffering: The order-of-magnitude over-representation of natives among Canada's criminal class is more or less unchanged since the adoption of reforms in the 1990s.

Some prior posts about sentencing circles:

January 20, 2009 at 08:48 AM | Permalink


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Fair enough... but has conventional sentencing done much to end native suffering (or "white" suffering).

As a white guy, I really don't feel much better when I see someone sentenced to a prison term after some kind of hearing. Is there something wrong with me?

Posted by: S.cotus | Jan 20, 2009 11:16:26 AM

Sometimes, the process matters for reasons that go beyond outcome.

Ancient Anglo Community Probable Cause and Guilt Determination Groups make a negligible impact on the percentage of criminal defendants charged with crimes who are convicted, but do play an important part in the acceptance that people living in many predominantly English speaking countries, also known as Crypto-Anglos, have in the criminal justice process.

In both cases, an important purpose is to deflect attention from individual senior civil servants who exercise power in the name of the state, and towards that collective response to a defendant's conduct that this senior civil servant's actions have always represented.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Jan 20, 2009 2:44:15 PM

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