Many Canadians feel that the justice system that has been in place for decades is not always the best practice to deal with some criminal acts. The justice system protects human rights, dignity and demographic values. Restorative justice offers the same protection, but includes everyone affected by a crime, costs less, reduces delays and resolves the problem when the offender owns up to the crime. In the formal justice system, there may be long delays after harm has been done before a judgment is given. The main goal of the formal system is to decide whether the accused is innocent or guilty. Those who suffer harm may not get a chance to speak except when the trial is over. They can’t talk about what would make them feel better. An alternative system of justice is needed to respond to those needs.
The philosophy of restorative justice is based on community healing. In other words, the community decides what is best for itself in terms of resolving certain criminal matters. The focus in restorative justice is on offender accountability, problem solving, and creating an equal voice for offenders and victims. The best results occur when the victim, offender, and the community jointly resolve the affects of an offenders’ behaviour. There are many options within restorative justice. The RCMP is championing one specific process: Community Justice Forums (CJF).
Through an yearly agreement with the Ministry of Justice in British Columbia, CDRJS receives referrals from police, crown, First Nations bands, schools and others. A restorative process involving victims, offenders and the community is facilitated by trained volunteers. The process aims to holds low-risk youth and adult offenders accountable for their actions in a meaningful way. It gives victims a voice, repairs the harm caused and helps to address route causes related to the offence.
Victim Services and Crime Prevention of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General is committed to a restorative justice approach that considers the involvement of victims, offenders and communities in achieving justice and addressing the harm caused by crime.
Crime Prevention Information Series: Restorative Justice Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General
Restorative Justice (RJ) seeks to create just outcomes by repairing the harm caused by crime and violence. Typically this happens through facilitating a process that addresses victims’ needs and holds offenders meaningfully accountable for their actions. In this approach, crime is understood not only as breaking the law, but as a violation of people and relationships and a disruption of the peace in a community.
In a restorative justice process, offenders must first accept responsibility for their role in an offense and the harm they have caused. Victims must also voluntarily choose to participate. Communities or community members are often actively involved in the process as interested stakeholders, supporters, or facilitators.
In B.C., restorative justice is most commonly used for less serious offenses such as mischief, assault, and theft. However, a restorative justice process can potentially be used for any crime in which harm has occurred. This can happen where the offender is showing an adequate degree of responsibility and willingness to make amends, and where the victim would like an opportunity to be heard, to have questions answered, or to seek restitution. All cases must be individually addressed for appropriateness.
When an act of crime or violence has been committed, those involved may feel varying degrees of confusion, remorse, loss, fear, anxiety, and/or guilt. The criminal justice system may not be able to help alleviate these challenges. In some cases, people may be interested in learning more about additional options available to them, including a restorative justice process.
CAP and CJF are often used interchangeably when discussing restorative justice practices or forums. Community Accountability Program or CAP refers to the contract that Cranbrook and District Restorative Justice Society holds with the Ministry of Justice to delivery restorative justice practices in British Columbia. There are a number of training facilities and opportunities in British Columbia and Canada geared to providing background in mediation and restorative justice practices. Starting in 1997, however, the RCMP adapted a scripted process, following a very successful program developed in New Zealand. The RCMP training process and certification is termed, Community Justice Forum or CJF. All of the facilitators at Cranbrook and District Restorative Justice Society (CDRJS) have been trained using the approved RCMP CJF program. In addition, there are trainers with CDRJS certified to provide the CJF training to new facilitators. Some of the facilitators with CDRJS has obtained additional training in Mediation and Peace-Making to support more complex cases.
A CJF or forum, is a safe, controlled environment in which an offender, victim and their families or supporters are brought together under the guidance of a trained facilitator.
Together they discuss the offence, how they have all been affected, and jointly develop a plan to correct what has occurred. Offenders must accept responsibility for their own actions. They are confronted with how their behavior affected the victim personally – and they hear it directly from their victim.
The conversations are often difficult and emotional, so a neutral, impartial and well-trained facilitator is present to guide the conversation. Each participant is encouraged to speak openly, honestly and fully.
Together they create a plan that will satisfy the needs of everyone. Sometimes it is enough for the offender to apologize and return what was taken or fix what was broken. Other agreements may include community service work, counseling, or addictions treatment for the offender.
In general, empirical research into restorative justice is arguably still in its infancy. Numerous questions remain unanswered. There are several issues, however, that do appear to be resolved.
Victims who experience a restorative justice program express high levels of satisfaction with the process and the outcomes. Victims also believe that the process is fair. There are strong indications that victims are much less satisfied within the traditional court system. In addition, victims’ satisfaction level appears to be related to the fulfillment of restitution agreements.
Offenders also express high levels of satisfaction with restorative justice programming and perceive the process to be fair. In addition, research suggests that offenders processed by the traditional system are less satisfied. There is evidence, though, that the severity of the restitution agreement is closely related to an offenders’ satisfaction level. The harsher the restitution, the more likely an offender will express dissatisfaction with the program.
Most restorative justice program participants have a high level of success in negotiating restitution agreements. There is also an indication that a high proportion of offenders referred to restorative justice programs follow through on their agreements and are more likely to comply than are offenders with court-ordered restitution.
The request for service from CDRJS falls under THREE main themes:
Restorative Justice Facilitation CDRJS has a contract with the Ministry of Justice to provide restorative justice facilitation in British Columbia. The current majority of the referrals come from either the RCMP or Crown. In either case, contact is made with the CDRJS Program Contractor and the file is reviewed by both parties.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is an agreement that expresses the common will between two or more parties. Although not as binding as a contract it describes a working relationship, an intended line of action.
CDRJS has signed a MOU with School District 5 (Southeast Kootenay). The agreement allows the school district to refer incidents that they feel require a restorative process. The process for referral, as identified in the MOU, is for schools to contact Jason Tichauer, Director of Instruction.
Restorative Approaches to Conflict Conflict is not restricted to the RCMP and schools. If an incident does not potentially involve a criminal offence, but may require a restorative approach to assist in resolving the difficulty, an application for support can be made by contacting the CDRJS Office 250-489-8999. All services provided by CDRJS are free of charge with exception of travel expenses outside of Cranbrook for CJF Training.
Restorative Justice Education and Training Restorative Justice Inservice CDRJS welcomes any and all opportunities to speak to groups about the positive nature and influence of restorative justice. If as a group you are interesting in a presentation, please feel free to contact the CDRJS Office 250-489-8999.
Cranbrook and District Restorative Justice Society is a Not-for-Profit organization which relies on grants and donations in order to support the our valuable contribution to the district. Your donations will enable CDRJS to train facilitators, offer public education and awareness, operate the office and support the community by providing restorative justice as an alternative to traditional court processes.