Restorative Justice week — which runs Nov. 21 to Nov. 28 — provides an opportunity for the public to learn how Restorative Justice (RJ) programs can reduce harm and empower individuals impacted by crime.
Restorative Justice has been practiced in B.C. since the 1990s as an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system.
While the justice systems of the past focused on punishment and the removal of offenders from the public, the current approach seeks to minimize the effects of crime on people and communities and prevent offenders from committing more crimes.
RJ is one form of this method of diversion open to offenders and victims for incidents ranging from formal charges with RCMP or Police, to issues in schools and bylaw or community disputes.
What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative justice seeks to repair the harm caused by crime and violence by addressing victims’ needs, holding offenders accountable for their actions and engaging the community in the justice process.
To achieve this, offenders must first accept responsibility for their role in an incident and the harm they have caused. Victims must also voluntarily choose to participate. The process is overseen by RJ programs and administered by trained Facilitators through forum discussions. Community justice forums can be a meaningful way for both victims and offenders to find closure after a crime or dispute has been committed using a formal agreement for restitution.
There are currently several RJ organizations providing services in the West Kootenay.
In the immediate area, Greater Trail Community Restorative Justice Program operates in the Trail, Fruitvale, Montrose, Warfield and Rossland. Like Kootenay Restorative Justice in the Central Kootenays, with service in Castlegar, and the Slocan Valley to Nakusp, the programs accept cases referred by the RCMP and deliver an alternative to the court system in B.C. The Nelson RJ program is located in the Nelson Police Department (NPD) and includes both prevention and intervention resources. Referrals can be made by the public, the NPD and schools.
Why Restorative Justice works
Whether a case is referred by a law enforcement official, a teacher, or a community member, restorative justice involves the participation of those who have been harmed, those who have caused harm and the community affected by the incident. Together, the facilitator works with those participants in finding solutions that seek to repair harm and promote harmony. RJ participants are often first-time offenders, youth and adults, who are at risk in their everyday lives. But RJ can work for anyone who has experienced a crime or dispute where both parties are open to a forum process.
RJ program staff and volunteers are trained to ensure a respectful process for both parties and to create new pathways for those responsible for harm in their communities. The restorative justice process also reduces costs to our society by diverting cases from the criminal justice system and reducing mental health stress for victims and their loved ones.
How can you help?
This RJ Week, learn more about restorative justice programs in your community.
If you or someone you love has been impacted by a crime or harmful incident, consider a restorative justice program to reach a resolution. Offenders and victims can request restorative justice through their assigned officer or contact the program directly.
For more information on how to begin the process contact Sharon Kucher, Greater Trail Community Justice Program President, email@example.com; Jennifer Kirk, Kootenay Restorative Justice Coordinator, (Central Kootenay) firstname.lastname@example.org; Kathy Centrone, Nelson’s Restorative Justice Manager, email@example.com.