Imagine being able to talk to the person who stole from you or vandalized your property and then work together with them to come up with some type of restitution you feel is appropriate for the harm they caused.
This approach is exactly what the Arrowsmith Community Justice Society (ACJS) has been doing in the Parksville Qualicum Beach and some Regional District of Nanaimo areas since 1999.
“Restorative justice is an alternative to going through the court system,” said ACJS program co-ordinator Alyssa Noble. “Restorative justice focuses on the harm that was caused and how the offender can repair the harm versus focusing on the crime that was committed and how to punish the offender.”
Through this process, offenders, victims and any community member that was directly affected by a crime meet to come up with conditions for the offender to repair the harm they committed.
“Then a contract is written up and once the terms of the agreement are met, the [offender] can’t be processed to the court system which ultimately they avoid any chance of a criminal record,” Noble said.
Offenders are referred to the ACJS from RCMP members who feel the case is appropriate for the restorative justice process.
“We deal with a variety of minor offences, so some examples are theft under $5,000, which is most commonly shoplifting in our community, mischief under $5,000, break and enter, assault, fraud and we do some motor vehicle related incidents as well,” Noble said. “There’s the discretion of the officer who will know right away if it’s a right fit for restorative justice.”
Noble said in order to be eligible for the restorative justice process, an offender has to admit to what they did.
“I get the referral and I OK that it’s appropriate for restorative justice. We have a group of volunteers that are trained facilitators and mentors and when we get a case, we assign a team to the case and what they do is contact the victim and offender separately and they meet separately,” Noble said. “And then we bring everyone together for a conference. Everyone who participates in the program, whether you’re a victim or offender, you get to bring a support person.”
During the meeting, all involved collaborate to come up with a form of reconciliation between offender and victim.Examples of restoration performed by offenders can vary widely, Noble said.
“It’s up to the victim and offender, so things like if the victim lost out on some money or some property was damaged they might look at monetary restitution or volunteering their time in the community to give back. Quiet often there’s things like apology letters included in the contract because it’s really beneficial when the offender gets to write down what they were thinking when they committed the crime,” Noble said.
Noble added that offenders have also been asked by the victim to come do work for them at their house or go to the store where they shoplifted from and help out.
“The possibilities are really endless when it comes to the conditions, we’re pretty flexible and open to any creative ideas,” she said.
Since the ACJS’s inception in 1999, the group has worked with 827 individuals that have committed a crime with only 41 of them reoffending. The group currently has 17 volunteers who are all trained facilitators.
Restorative Justice week takes place nationally from Nov. 18 to 25, to garner recognition for what restorative justice can do for a community.