Making strides in community justice

Executive Director Margaret Clark says the Restorative Justice Society North Okanagan (RJS-NO) has come a long way since accepting the first referral back in 2006.

Restorative approaches to crime date back thousands of years. The basic idea is to bring an offender, victim and community together, and focus on meeting personal needs rather than punishment.

An offender is asked to take responsibility for his or her actions and make amends for the harm he or she has caused.  

Clark explains, “It is important to keep in mind that Restorative Justice service is for the person harmed first and foremost with a focus on the person who caused harm.”

The primary model used to repair the harm is the Community Justice Forum (CJF), where the person harmed (PH) and the person who caused harm (PWCH) are brought together for a CJF conference.  

“The person who caused the harm must admit to the offence or harm done and be willing to meet face-to-face with the person harmed, and be held accountable,” says Clark.

Guardians, caregivers, and other support persons are also involved in the CJF process.

The RJS-NO works primarily with first time offenders when the offense is relatively minor. Types of charges range from mischief and theft to assault and even break and enter. Theft Under $5,000 is the most common charge at 53 per cent of referred cases.  

There are four phases to a CJF conference: the introduction phase, the fact finding phase, the agreement phase, and the social phase.  

During the fact finding phase, the PWCH shares the details of the incident, and talks about how everyone involved may have been affected. The PH then shares his or her thoughts and feelings about the incident, and how he or she has been affected. Guardians and supporters do the same.    

In phase three, the group discusses solutions and reaches consensus on an appropriate outcome. A Disposition Agreement is drafted.

During the final social phase, participants complete an evaluation and chat together one-on-one. The conference is over when the Disposition Agreement is signed.

In 2006, the RJS-NO received 11 referrals involving roughly 52 participants. In 2012, the number of referrals totalled 35 with 187 participants.

There are still eight open Disposition Agreements in place from 2012 that will be concluded sometime this year. Of the 26 referrals concluded in 2012, the compliance rate is 96 per cent. That means 96 per cent of PWCH followed through with their commitment of reparations.

Although there are no current stats on recidivism rates, the RJS-NO and the Vernon RCMP conducted an internal review in 2009. The internal review looked at files created between 2006 and 2008, and the results suggested that 76 per cent of PWCH had not re-offended.  

The RJS-NO became incorporated under the Societies Act in 2011, followed by Canadian Registered Charity status in November of 2012. The organization operates out of Vernon’s Community Policing Office. The City of Vernon is its primary funder.

Referrals are received directly from the RCMP and schools within the Vernon/North Okanagan RCMP Detachment area.

For more information, please contact Restorative Justice North Okanagan at 250-550-7846. 

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