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the Friend 30 March 2007 £1.50

Friends, partly through their own experience in the prisons of the 17th Century, became concerned about the treatment of the accused or convicted. Friends witnessed to their concern for the Divine Spirit in humans by seeing prisons as an alternative to corporal or capital punishment. Subsequently, they worked for reform of these prisons. Today Friends are becoming increasingly aware that prisons are a destructive and expensive failure as a response to crime. We are therefore turning from efforts to reform prisons to efforts to replace them with non-punitive, life-affirming and reconciling responses. The prison system is both a cause and a result of violence and social injustice. Throughout history the majority of prisoners have been the powerless and the oppressed. We are increasingly clear that the imprisonment of human beings, like their enslavement, is inherently immoral, and is as destructive to the cagers as to the caged. The challenge before us is to use alternatives based on economic and social justice and on the fulfilment of human needs. Some alternatives to prisons have already been developed and more are needed to bring about reconciliation and healing within the community. Friends need to seek out, develop and support such measures. At the same time, we need to foster awareness in ourselves and others of the roots of crime and violence in society to ensure that our lives do not unintentionally reinforce those evils. Prison abolition is both a process and a goal, a long-term goal. In the interim there is great need for Friends to reach out and to support all those affected: guards, prisoners, victims and families. We recognise the need for restraint of those few who are exhibiting dangerous behaviour. The kind of restraint used, and the help offered during that time, must reflect our concern for that of God in every person.

Statement adopted by Canadian Yearly Meeting, 1981