The Restorative Justice Act came into effect today with the publication of a legal notice in the Government Gazette.

This was announced by Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici during a performance by young prisoners 'When you hear my voice' at the Home Affairs Ministry. The prisoners shall be performing the play at St James' Cavalier between February 6 and 9.

The minister said that the main aim of the Restorative Justice Act is to offer the prisoners the possibility of reform. Through the act, the reduction of a prison sentence by up to third will no longer be automatic but would be pegged to conditions and targets for each inmate, who would be examined by an Offender Assessment Board.

The board will chart a tailormade programme of work that can include studying, work or any activity felt to be beneficial to the inmate. This will then be used as part of the assessment undertaken by one of two boards, which will decide on applications filed by prisoners who choose between parole and remission. The new Parole Board and the Remissions Board, chaired by the prisons director, will decide on the applications.

The Remission Board would be responsible for deciding on the award or forfeiture of remission, the minister said. However, decisions by this board can also be pegged to behaviour outside the prison walls.

If an offender opts for remission after serving two-thirds of his prison sentence, the inmate would be assessed and, in granting remission, the board may impose certain conditions, which, if broken, would result in re-incarceration for the remaining period of the original sentence.

The act is also introducing parole, through which prisoners could be allowed out under a number of conditions.

The bill for restorative justice was published in January last year and was approved as an act of Parliament in December. It followed a process initiated in February 2009 with the publication of a white paper on restorative justice, following which there was a four-month consultation period.

A task force then drew up a report, which was published that year, and which served as the basis of the bill.

Although the process was a long one, it was essential as the act was a big step gradually taking the country from a punitive to a restorative justice system.

The system follows reforms in the prisons based on the recommendations of the inquiry board which had been set up to examine the prison's administrative systems.

A new management system was set up with the appointment of managers responsible for security, operations, care and reintegration.

An education coordinator was then appointed and several educational opportunities are being offered at the prisons. This work was bearing results with the number of prisoners taking part in these programmes growing constantly.

The Probation Department was also reformed with this being removed from the prisons structure and given its own director. Under the new act, this department will also be monitoring prisoners on parole.

Although a lot of preparatory work has already been carried out, a lot still needed to be done.

The minister sai that the government took a cautious approach because although the need for such a law was felt, the government's priority was to enact a law which offered opportunities to deserving prisoners.

The law will be implemented for the additional required structures to be set up

Dr Mifsud Bonnici said that remission was in the interest of society but the state had to ensure that prisoners reformed.

The new measures and procedures reflected a serious society which ensured that everyone paid for their actions, he said.

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