Sunday, June 03, 2012

Jails, Gaols and Healing Lodges

Sky, sea, land - nature's lesson in harmony

Harmony in small things
A visit to the Willow Cree Healing Lodge on the Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation got me thinking again about the three legs of sentencing: retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence. Typically, these are given as the three primary goals of punishment for crime.
·        Retribution: “You do the crime, you’ll do the time.” “An eye for an eye . . . “
·        Rehabilitation: “We’ll make a better, law-abiding person of you.”
·        Deterrence: “We’re making an example of you so others won’t make the same mistakes.”
Of course, we use other terms as well.
·        Penitentiary is one whose root—penitent—Oxford defines as “feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong.” Ostensibly, this could align with rehabilitation, particularly under the Christian concept that penitence must precede rebirth.
·        Then there’s jail, or gaol, whose origin is given by Oxford as “Middle English: based on L. cavea (see cage); the word came into Engl. in two forms, jaiole from OFr. and gayole from Anglo-Norman Fr. gaole (surviving in the spelling gaol).” If you drive Highway 1 to Winnipeg from Regina, you’ll pass a sign that points to “Headingly Gaol.” The word is related to cage; an interesting association very much in line with retribution.
·        Correctional Facility is a euphemism, a term that softens impact, like “passing away” serves as a euphemism for “dying.” The term also serves to emphasize the rehabilitation goal of incarceration.There's a mile of semantic difference, though, between correction and healing.
·        Prison conjures images of cages, like jail or gaol.
·        There is any number of pejoratives, some harking back to the Wild, Wild West, Like hoosegow. Slammer, Big House and a host of others spring to mind.
·        And then there’s Healing Lodge, a term that diverges radically from the traditional and the typical, and leads us to see the rehabilitation goal most emphatically.

I find the interplay between cultural practices and values and the words we use to talk about them fascinating. What major change in cultural values would have to take place before we would begin calling the Prince Albert Penitentiary the Prince Albert Healing Lodge?
As I understand it, the concept of the healing lodge emanates from the First Nations value of harmony among all aspects of being. Defined in one study, “healing is ultimately about the reparation of damaged and disordered social relations. The individual, through outwardly and self-destructive behaviours, has become disconnected from family, friends, community, and even his or her heritage. The reason for undertaking healing is often found in the clients’ desire to make amends and to be accepted back into the web of relationships. Healing, then, speaks to a form of Aboriginal sociality that reduces the degree of self-indulgence and self-pity and frames one’s problems and the solutions in broader, collective terms.” (
               Victims of crime can hardly be faulted if, in their bitterness, they can only visualize justice as served if the perpetrator is made to feel suffering to a similar degree that they are suffering. But surely the goal for a national justice system can’t be focused just on making sure retribution happens. Prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration have been undervalued and I would hope that all the efforts made by those who work at restorative justice will eventually produce a vibrant cultural value affecting how our justice system sets goals.
               May all our gaols finally have healing lodges attached.


  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being disagree strongly and 10 agree strongly, I would be at 12 or maybe 15.
    Ron P

  2. Hi George; Don't know if you're familiar with the book "The Spirit level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett". I have found it an interesting and informative read. With regard to your Blog topic of today, chapters 10 & 11 give some helpful insight. I quote in part the conclusion of chap.11 "In societies with greater inequality, where the social distance between people are greater, where attitudes of ' us and them' are more entrenched ........ public and policy makers alike are more willing to imprison people and adopt punitive attitudes towards the 'criminal elements' of society. More unequal societies are harsher, tougher places . And as prison is not particularly effective for either deterrence or rehabilitation, then a society must only be willing to maintain a high rate (and high cost) of imprisonment for reasons unrelated to effectiveness. "

    Maybe you have read this as well, but thought I would pass it on. Thanks for the thoughtful, articulate, well reasoned Blogs you post. I look forward to them each Sunday morning.

    Regards, Ron P