September 25, 2011

Fiji travelogue: A different approach to murder

Guest post by Jules Burstein*

Three weeks ago while on a vacation in Fiji, I was on the third-largest island, Taveuni, walking in a light rain up a not-so-steep hill, when I encountered the following sign in front of what looked like a series of dormitories:

Fiji Correction Services
Taveuni Prison
Giving a Second Chance

I walked inside and explained to a secretary at the front desk that I was a forensic psychologist and was interested in learning something about the criminal justice and prison system in Fiji. She invited me to speak to the Director (Warden) who was just outside the main building and was quite receptive to having an exchange with me.

I was more than a little astonished to learn from him that on an island with 18,000 people there were only a dozen men serving time for murder. But more compelling than that was the Director informing me that all men convicted of murder are sentenced to 10 years.

At that point they are evaluated to see whether they have sufficient remorse for their offense, and have made constructive changes in their character so as to warrant release. If that is the case they are discharged from custody. If not, there are periodic reviews every two years to determine whether inmates are then suitable for release. Thus, all inmates are strongly motivated to effect positive changes while in custody in order to earn the right to be reintegrated into society.

I found it impressive (and sad) to consider that this progressive approach exists in a country that just obtained its independence from Great Britain 40 years ago, while we in America have prisons filled with thousands of men convicted of murder either sentenced to death or to life sentences with little chance of parole.

*Jules Burstein is a clinical and forensic psychologist in Berkeley, California.

1 comment:

Elaine said...

Interesting and I am glad you took the time to check it out.