by Julia Ward
After watching the documentary film by Shanti Thakur entitled “Circles”, my eyes were open to a whole new social justice system which was very different from our own. The way that people are punished for the crimes that they commit in other countries around the world such as Canada, is nothing like the system that we have in the United States. While our system is based on “locking criminals up”, other places have the circle sentencing system. This system actually makes a lot of sense and forces the criminal to face the people he affected and make changes to his/her life.
Thakur does a superb job of explaining what circle sentencing is. Circle sentencing is basically when someone commits a crime, instead of bringing them to jail, they are forced to go back into their community. The crime does not have to do with just the individual but their community as well which means that just by locking someone up really does not solve the problem. For many of the members that experience this sentencing, it is a way to reconnect with their spirituality and to finally break away from the vicious cycle that goes along with crimes.
Rather than interviewing various people with opinions on the form of punishment, Thakur told a story which allowed the viewer to understand the sentencing process from a historical point of view. Each person that she interviewed had either been punished with the circle sentencing themselves, or has had a close family member or friend that has gone through the process. It was almost as though they were all connected and interweaved together, which made the documentary really neat in my opinion.
From a young age, many Aboriginal men of the North were forced to go to mission schools at a young age. These experiences were nothing like the experiences children have today at school but times filled with very strict rules and regulations. Going to jail once they had grown up was basically no different from their experiences at their missionary schools. And some people once they get out of jail feel so disconnected from their community and life, that they go to drastic measures and possibly take their own life because they feel as though their life isn’t worth living anymore.
This form of punishment seems to be a huge success in places such as the Yukon and is definitely a lot cheaper too. In the United States we spend millions and millions of dollars each year on our prisons, when in some cases we could be turning to circle sentencing to achieve justice.
Here is the link to Shanti Thakur’s website where you can watch the trailer for the movie Circles.