Understanding Restorative Justice; The Power in the process

Fairview Community Restorative Justice has facilitators trained in Victim/Offender Mediation, Community Justice Forms and Circles.

Referrals come from the RCMP, schools or community and deals with minor crime like shoplifting, theft, vandalism and minor assaults. The offender must admit guilt and be willing to make amends. The victim must also be willing to take part.

In the case of a youth shoplifting a candy bar, many people feel the process is a waste of time for store owners, our volunteer facilitators and the family of the offender.

We look at it as an investment of time and support. It gives the young person an opportunity to recognize the impact a seemingly small offense can have on others and the chance to make amends for his/her actions. The store owner has an opportunity to share the impact such actions have on him/her personally and the business.   

Reality is that it does take time, but the time spent is worthwhile. Here is what usually happens. A storeowner or staff finds a youth shoplifting. It is a small item so they choose not to involve the police but call the parents. I have been told by store owners that sometimes the response from parents is very disheartening because they dismiss it as not a big deal, just ask how much they owe or are rude to the store owner. This creates frustration for storeowners and anger or embarassment for parents.

Their are many parents who do take shoplifting seriously and hold their children accountable with an internal form of consequence. These same parents may be embarassed to go back into the store and feel they could be judged as not being good parents.

This is where the power of the restorative process comes in.  If you have the same senario with the storeowner choosing to go to the police or coming directly to the RJ program. The police or FCRJ Program Coordiantor contacts the offender to see if they are willing to admitt guilt and make amends. There is a pre-interview, always with great consideration for the storeowners time and convenience to determine what they would like to see as a result of the process.  A pre-interview with the youth and parent/gaurdian to explain what will take place during the process and the facilitators role. This gives the young person time to think of ways he/she can make up for the harms caused. 

The actual forum can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on circumstances, offense and number of people who need to take part in the process.

The outcome is that all parties have had an opportunity to meet formally and talk about how the offense has impacted them.

The store owner is able to share how he/she has been affected and what he/she needs in order to feel the situation has been resolved while not losing business of a whole family dues to embarrasment.

The offender has had an opportunity to make amends and work with the victim to heal the harms.  We have all made mistakes but this gives a young person the chance to make it right and that can be very empowering. That is a bonus many people overlook.

Parent of an offender share how they've been affected by their childs actions which often includes emabarassment about returning to the store. They also usually share that their childs actions arent reflective of the values they have tried to teach. After the restorative process they are less likely to be embarassed to re-enter the store, face the store owner and grateful for usually grateful for the chance their child had to avoid being charged criminally.

Restorative justice IS about relationships. Is it earth shattering? No. Is it possible it could be a turning point in a youths life? Absolutely. 

Mary Bracken- Coordinator

Fairview Community Restorative Justice

Fairview Alberta Canada

Pamela MacKay