Restorative Justice, is it effective when it comes to youth crimes?

In regards to crime, punishment seems to be the first choice of social discipline, not just in the criminal justice system but society. Many communities, schools and families assume that retribution is the most appropriate formal and informal response to negative youth behaviour or crime.

Restorative practices and restorative justice programs are sometimes perceived as an easy out for the youth who doesn’t end up with a criminal record when completing his or her agreement.

The police and the court system are held by whatever rules are determined by federal and/or provincial policies.

Historically with youth crimes, the pendulum swung from being too lenient to too harsh. Read this portion of an article from “Restorative Justice in Everyday Life,” Ted Watchel and Paul McCold.

“Bernard(1992) identified a ‘harsh-liberal’ cycle of juvenile justice policies, which has been repeated three times in the last two hundred years. The liberal reform cycle begins when justice officials and the public are convinced that juvenile crime is exceptionally high, so there are many harsh punishments but few lenient treatments for juvenile offenders.  Eventually, forced to choose between harsh punishments’ and doing nothings, reforms are enacted to provide non-punitive treatments alternatives. After some time however justice officials and the public blame these lenient treatments for the perceived high crime rates. This leads to a narrowing of lenient treatments and expansion of harsh ones (repressive reforms). Then the cycle is set to begin again. Society finds itself trapped on a punitive-permissive continuum”.

Go to documents page under Restorative Justice document information and click on the link for the full article.

I believe the balance lies in combining accountability and consequences with supports in order to help the youth make future, “good decisions”.

The court system currently uses alternative measure for first time offending youth under the Youth Justice Act.  This process involves the judge, offender probation and in some cases a youth justice committee.

The RCMP will, when appropriate refer cases to restorative justice.

There is a place for both alternative processes. If a youth is not remorseful or willing to make amends to the victim, its best the process and consequences not involve the victim.

For the youth who does admit guilt and is willing to make amends, he/she sits across from the victim, each tells their story and the victim speaks about how they’ve been affected. Then there is discussion on how to repair the harms and what actions will help “restore” the situation. That agreement can involved anything from financial restitution, repair, apologize and community service.  

When wanting to make amends,  youth that go through the courts alternative measure program could much better serve the victim and the community by going through a Restorative Justice program. Where victims of crime are given a voice and offenders have an opportunity to make amends.

With more awareness for restorative justice hopefully our communities, schools and families will look at accountability and consequences versus retribution as the best response to negative youth behaviour or crime.

Pamela MacKay