Restorative Justice is a community-based justice process that provides the chance to repair some of the damage done by crime.
The focus is on accountability and repair of damage, rather than retribution or punishment, says Jane Waterman, a facilitator for the Texada Island – Powell River Restorative Justice Program. “Restorative Justice is a program that brings together parties affected by an incident in order to repair the harm it caused.”
Last year in Powell River four cases were heard by the Restorative Justice unit. “A typical case would be ‘mischief’ with a youth involved and less than $5,000 in damages,” Jane said. “If the youth is willing to take responsibility for their actions, Restorative Justice is a very good avenue to take. Restorative Justice can reduce costs and in the end it promotes public safety by providing healing, reparation and re-integration into the community.”
After everyone involved in or affected by harmful behaviour has agreed to participate in a restorative justice process, trained facilitators come together with the victim, the offender, or those involved in a community dispute, and their supporters in a safe, confidential process to look at harm done and to decide what should take place to repair the damage.
At the forum everyone has a chance to tell their story about the incident and how it has affected them. “We sit in a circle,” Jane said, “so we can see each other and talk directly to one another. There’s nothing between us for distraction but a box of Kleenex.”
If a crime has taken place the offender accepts responsibility for the harmful behaviour and the victim describes their reaction to the incident. The group together explores options for repairing the harm done. When an agreement has been reached it is written and signed. “The coordinator, the facilitator and the support team work together to ensure the agreement is carried out to the satisfaction of all,” Jane said.
The process takes anywhere from a couple of hours to five hours and is totally confidential. “We meet in a neutral space where people can feel safe, heard and respected. Everyone gets an opportunity to speak, one person at a time, with no interrupting,” Jane said.
Restorative Justice also provides:
- A voice for victims.
- Encouragement for offenders to take responsibility for harmful behaviours.
- A reduction in the number of people going through the court system.
- A method of resolving community disputes.
- The possibility of reconciliation and restoration of positive relationships.
- An opportunity for healing of individual and community.
The difference about the Restorative Justice system is that the focus is on accountability and repair of damage rather than retribution or punishment. “It seeks to heal the wounds of every person affected by the offence or incident, including the victim, the offender, their families and supporters,” Jane said. “And it works very well.”
Not only does it bring the victim into the heart of the process, which the courtroom doesn’t provide, cases are dealt with in a timely manner and within the community. “Restorative Justice is non-violent, inclusive and respectful,” Jane said. “Often the victim walks in angry and wants vengeance and by the end of the circle, once they’ve gotten to know the other person’s whole character, not just a slice of time when they committed the offence, there is larger understanding and they find similar ground.”
Community members, schools, businesses, Loss Prevention Officers, Probation Officers, Crown Counsel and Law Enforcement Officials are all able to refer cases for Restorative Justice. “Anyone in the community can refer, for example if two neighbours have a dispute they can come to Restorative Justice for help in finding a solution to their mutual problem,” Jane said.
Restorative Justice was started by a Mennonite police officer in Kitchener, Ontario. The officer thought there must be a better way to resolve conflicts without further harming either the victim or the offender. The program has grown exponentially and is now available across Canada. Manitoba recently proclaimed a first of its kind Restoration Justice Act.
The Texada Island – Powell River Program is expected to grow and trained volunteers will be required more and more in years to come. In order to be a trained facilitator, a person can take online facilitator training or attend volunteer training programs.
“The skills I gained during my Restorative Justice training at SFU has helped me immensely, I use those skills every day,” said Kerri Lynn Warren, a trained Restorative Justice facilitator. “It has given me a totally different perspective.”
The Texada Island – Powell River Restorative Justice Program is part of the Vancouver Island Regional Restorative Justice Association. “We are seeking volunteers interested in becoming trained as Restorative Justice facilitators,” Jane said. “Our training will take place in the spring of 2016.”
For more information about joining the Restorative Justice Program on Texada Island and Powell River, please contact email@example.com.