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Authors

Jennifer Friend

Department

Social Work

Faculty Advisor

Jennifer Murphy

Abstract

In 1996, the Canadian government implemented reforms to the Criminal Code regarding sentencing in an attempt to reduce the overpopulation of Indigenous people in the judicial system, a problem which was seen as partly a result of colonialism and systemic discrimination. Included in these amendments were the restorative justice principles of reparations and responsibility, and a requirement for sentencing judges to consider reasonable alternatives to imprisonment, especially for Indigenous offenders. Unfortunately, a review of the recent literature indicates that judicial reform and sentencing innovation have failed to mitigate the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the incarcerated population. It is apparent that what these reforms have failed to address are the broader systemic issues, such as poverty and lack of education, that contribute to the high incidence of Indigenous people committing criminal offences. Restorative justice has many goals, including enhancing accountability for one’s actions, increasing voluntary dialogue, and reconnecting the individual with the traditional community. However, these actions also need to be targeted at preventative measures, rather than focusing on sentencing and offender reintegration. Thus, in order for a restorative justice approach to legal issues to be effective, social workers have an obligation to strive for the creation of more programs specifically targeted at Indigenous people, especially those for women and youth.

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