Castlegar’s Restorative Justice Forum has suspended its activities until more support is shown.
The forum’s goal is to rehabilitate first-time offenders and mend relationships between offenders and victims.
However, in the past year, the forum has seen only one person come to them for assistance. Chair Inga Lamont said that when the Justice Forum started in 1999 they would see one to four people a month.
Reluctance of volunteers to be trained for the work and a lack of referrals from the RCMP lately have led to the program’s downfall.
“We need members and we need the RCMP to make referrals,” she said. “When you have facilitators waiting to do referrals and there are none, you lose your facilitators.”
Lamont said another issue, according to police, is that most offenders are repeat offenders and not suitable for the program, which is especially useful to first-time offenders, as it leaves them without a criminal record so long as they keep their noses clean and follow the forum’s guidelines.
“It’s an excellent program but if it’s not being used and you don’t have people and you don’t have cases, you can’t run it.”
Through the process, offenders meet the person they wronged and the victim gets a chance to talk about how the crime affected them.
“It’s a phenomenal program to have in the schools but we haven’t been able to get teachers in on the program,” Lamont said. “I understand: I’m a teacher as well. They are busy and they’re tired on weekends but we do need these kinds of people.”
Lamont said the 30 hours of required training to work for the forum is another problem. Since the class time is always during weekends, it seems nobody wants to offer themselves for the forum but they can’t operate with untrained people.
Also worth noting is the age limit for this program: there is none.
“We don’t just deal with youth, we’ve had people up to 66 years old if it’s a first time offense.”
The forum has been on shaky ground for a while now, Lamont said, and after careful deliberation they came to this decision.
“For the last two years we’ve been deciding what we should do and at the last meeting we thought maybe it’s time to call it quits for a while. We haven’t disbanded the society or anything; we will be happy to help anyone who decides this is important and wants to keep it going.
“I am always happy to help anyone who wants to get involved, but I’m 84 and have been doing this since 1999. I don’t want to be the only one who has to do this but it’s such a wonderful program.”