Restorative justice for crime builds a stronger community
Published 2:57 PST, Fri December 6, 2019
Richmond is a leader in many things, and one in particular is its successful restorative justice (RJ) program for youth and adults. RJ is an effective approach to criminal justice (to deal with offenders outside the court system for non-violent crimes). It focuses on rehabilitating the offender through reconciliation with victims and the community, versus criminal charges and possible prison time. RJ is centred on giving the victims a voice while holding offenders accountable for their crimes.
The City of Richmond has been supporting the program—contracting Touchstone Family Association, who partners with Richmond RCMP—since 2008 when it began funding a full time Restorative Justice Coordinator.
A few years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved in an RJ session with a youth who was caught spray-painting swastikas on a fence. This act of vandalism could have escalated into criminal charges of a hate crime, forever limiting this student’s future. While egregious, jail time was clearly not the best path to resolving it.
The RJ Coordinator arranged for affected parties to come together and speak to one another – the offender, the offender’s parents, the RCMP officer, a local rabbi, and me. The fear and apprehension in the room were palpable. Everyone had an opportunity to speak about how the incident had affected them. As a City Councillor, I was affected because people in our community felt fearful and sad, and were looking to me for answers and action.
After everyone had spoken, the energy in the room changed. The fear and apprehension evolved to regret, sadness and understanding.
Together, we determined the steps for the youth to achieve closure. The youth met with the rabbi at the Holocaust museum and developed a deep understanding about the Holocaust, what happened, and why swastikas incite such extreme fear and anxiety. The youth attended a Jewish community event to better understand the culture and wrote a letter to the Editor in response to an unrelated racist event that happened at school.
I have included a portion of their letter. As you can see, this youth became an advocate and a leader, reminding us to “think twice before you act”.
The RJ approach allowed the youth to learn and grow as a person, while healing and giving voice to those affected. It turned the experience into a teachable moment.
The following statistics prove the program’s ongoing success:
• Since the program’s inception in 2004: 351 youth successfully completed the program in Richmond and only 12% (43) reoffended. In contrast, 46% (50) of the 109 referrals who initially entered the program but did not complete the program reoffended.
• Since 2004: 234 adults were referred to the program and only 9% (17) reoffended.
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