TCS Daily

The Reality of Faith and Good Works

By Tim Worstall - November 24, 2004 12:00 AM

One of the more important questions that faces a criminal justice system is that of trying to work out how to stop released prisoners from re-offending. We could of course adopt the nuclear option of never letting the little buggers out but that seems a touch extreme for each and every offense on the statute books. I was therefore interested to see an article in The Guardian looking at a program which seems to be highly successful.

Part of the fun of the article is seeing how the writer, a Professor, has to keep his indignation under control for this program was designed and run, from its inception, with no input from such highly trained professionals as himself:

"...but also the fact that Eileen and her many volunteers do not come from any specialist psychological or psychiatric background, but are just ordinary members of the public who are prepared to give up their time."

This shouldn't come as any great surprise to those of us who actually believe in the ability of the average individual out there. It is precisely the freedom provided by individual action, by free markets themselves, which we know brings us the cornucopia of new products and ideas which makes our entire society so stinking rich. It really isn't that much of a stretch to think that a system that works so well in making new flavors of ice cream or iced tea might also come up with some interesting (and of course a great deal of entirely uninteresting just as with the comestibles) thoughts on how to deal with recidivists. Being unconstrained by the prevailing orthodoxy of a professional training and background these volunteers thought completely outside the box and came up with something that seems to work extremely well:

"It is then that I mention a Canadian scheme that challenges our assumptions about what we should do to prevent more children becoming victims -- a project which has been shown to reduce the predicted rate of reoffending by more than 70%, compared to the UK Prison Service's sex offender treatment programme, which, on average, produces reductions of just 10%-15%."

That certainly seems to be a highly successful program doesn't it? Vastly better than what the assembled minds and giant intellects of the psychiatric profession and their acolytes have been able to manage. Actually, I shouldn't be quite so harsh, for how to stop sex offenders from, well, offending again is one of those problems that no one has really had a very good idea about. Other than castration (either chemical or physical) or continued incarceration that is. So the method that these Canadians have come up with is all the more remarkable for its simplicity:

"The idea behind the scheme is counter-intuitive, but simple and effective. Each Circle has seven members: six volunteers and one released paedophile, who is known as the core member. The volunteers give up some time once a week to meet the paedophile, perhaps over coffee or lunch, just to chat to find out how he is doing, whether he has taken his medication, attended his job interview, spoken to his counsellor and so forth. And, on the seventh day, everyone gets together to share a meal and celebrate a life without committing further crimes against children."

If this was all there was to the story I wouldn't have troubled you with it. While we're all sickened by the abuse of children (to the extent that supporters of NAMBLA tend to be very quiet in public for fear of physical retribution, at least when I'm around) the details and minutiae of how to reduce it tend to pass us by until and unless there is a particularly vicious case in the headlines. What I think makes this of much greater interest is the line that I've deliberately not quoted 'till now:

"The scheme, Circles of Support and Accountability, was started 10 years ago in Ontario by Pastor Harry Nigh."

Pastor? One of those enemies of the reality based community? Sadly for a certain political viewpoint, yes, for as I found here:

"The idea, which originated in Canada and was run by the Mennonite Community was first developed in 1994. In the UK the idea has been championed by The Quaker Crime and Community Justice Committee."

How sad that a bunch of Jesus freaks, working on their own, counter-intuitively even, without the guidance of the trained and the professional, seem to have discovered, worked out, the most effective method yet known of reducing the abuse of children. It must be something of a shock to those who insist that the State, the all-embracing Nanny, knows what is best for us.

It may also seem a little counter-intuitive (droll even?) to use an example from the People's Republik of Canuckistan as a support for the actions of a US President, one who is, as we are told, the most extreme, right-wing and divisive yet. Yet this example shows that faith-based initiatives are a bad idea in just what way precisely?


TCS Daily Archives