Community Justice Forum as Seen by Participants
written by :
Jharna Chatterjee, Ph.D.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Research and Evaluation Branch
Community, Contract and Aboriginal Policing Services (CCAPS) Directorate
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
This project was undertaken to explore, and provide information about, an issue or topic. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Government of Canada.
Various data collection methods, such as mail-in questionnaires, telephone interviews and in-depth personal interviews were utilized in order to collect information regarding the following basic variables hypothesized to be associated with restorative justice (not compared to those associated with conventional ‘retributive’ justice, because the methodology did not allow such a comparison):
- CJF participants’ overall satisfaction,
- CJF participants’ satisfaction with the process, and
- CJF participants’ satisfaction with the outcome/agreement.
A 5-point Likert-type scale was utilized for collecting all quantitative data:
- where 1 meant ‘very little’,
- 2 meant ‘somewhat’,
- 3 indicated ‘medium’,
- 4 denoted ‘quite a bit’ and
- 5 meant ‘very much’.
CJF Participants’ Views. The results of this study, based on responses collected from a total of 239 CJF participants, showed that the mean ratings for overall satisfaction as well as levels of satisfaction with procedural and outcome fairness were high among all participants. Almost all participants reported they felt ‘quite’ (39% rated it 4) or ‘very’ (51% rated 5) satisfied with the CJFs, and others felt ‘moderate’ level of satisfaction. Eighty-five percent of offenders and 94% of victims reported they felt either ‘quite’ or ‘very much’ satisfied with the CJF overall.
Similarly, 96% of all participants indicated that they felt the CJF process was ‘very’ (5) or‘quite’(4) fair. In spite of the generally high level of satisfaction with the CJF process, there was a slight indication of perceived undue pressure to attend the CJF on the part of victims. Responses also suggested that before coming to the CJF, not all participants had a completely clear and thorough understanding of what it involved. However, in spite of their imperfect understanding of the process, the majority of participants had participated in CJFs voluntarily (100% of offenders and victims’ supporters, over 95% of victims’ and offenders’ supporters).
Results for satisfaction with agreement/outcome were also consistently high: 91% of all participants felt that the agreement/outcome was ‘quite’ or ‘very’ fair and most participants acknowledged that they were given a chance to provide input into the agreement with no pressure from anyone. Ninety-seven percent of victims rated the fairness of the agreement/outcome as ‘quite’ or ‘very’ fair while 77% of offenders rated it either ‘quite’ or ‘very’ fair. These results are significant, particularly in relation to victims who often report feeling frustrated with both the process and the outcome of the traditional court system. Another measure of participants’ satisfaction with their CJF experience was demonstrated in their reported choice between the CJF and the court, if they had to do it all over again. The majority of them - 87% of the offenders, 93% of the victims, 95% of offenders’ supporters and 93% of victims’ supporters would choose CJFs over the court.
Results showed that 98% of all offenders indicated that the CJF helped in their understanding of the consequences of their actions and their willingness to take responsibility for the same. About 97% of their supporters and everyone in the categories of victims and their supporters (100%) indicated that they felt the offenders understood and took responsibility for the consequences of their offenses at least to some extent. The total percentage of interviewees who stated that the offenders had actually complied with the CJF agreement was 84.8%, with other cases still on-going. Both offenders and their supporters expected that there would be quite a bit (or higher) of support for the offenders from their family and friends in complying with the agreement. Over 90% of victims who answered the questionnaire indicated that they would be ‘quite’ or ‘very’ willing to give the offender a second chance. In fact, some of the victims indicated that they came to the CJF because they wanted the offenders to have a second chance. Victims’ supporters and offenders’ supporters were also willing to give the offenders a second chance (ranging from ‘moderate’ to ‘very much’). Following their participation in CJFs, 97% of questionnaire respondents reported ‘somewhat’ or higher regained sense of control over what happens in their community. The majority of respondents in each category reported that the CJF process gave them back ‘quite a bit’ of control. In this study, 88% of victims interviewed reported that the CJFs helped ‘quite a bit’ or ‘very much’ with their psychological healing. An additional 12% reported that it helped ‘moderately’. The mean response to the question ‘Was justice done?’ was high for the total group of participants. Also, both victims’ supporters and offenders’ supporters indicated that in their view, harmony was restored. The data indicated that the CJFs took place within 1 to 20 weeks (average 5.4 weeks) after the offending incident occurred. The facilitators’ observations corroborated this fact. Responses to the question about the likelihood of the offenders re-offending showed that offenders themselves and their supporters believed that they were unlikely to offend again, although victims’ supporters were a little less convinced.
Facilitators’ Views on CJFs . In-depth, face-to-face interviews were conducted with thirty facilitators in various parts of Canada, to discuss a wide range of issues such as the type of communities they worked in (mixed socio-economic levels, urban and rural, multi-ethnic), these communities’ receptivity to CJFs (informed communities were receptive), the types of cases where CJFs should be applied (mostly non-violent crimes), perceived willingness of participants to attend CJFs (mostly willing) and factors likely to be associated with agreement-compliance (parental support). These interview data complement the findings presented in the first report. In addition, sixty-nine CJF facilitators, mostly police officers, filled out questionnaires immediately following the completion of CJF sessions they had facilitated, to provide us with their perceptions on specific issues.
The questionnaire data showed: The number of participants present at the CJFs ranged from 3 to 23, with the mode or the most frequent numbers being 5 and 7. Overall satisfaction of these facilitators with CJFs was rated 4 or ‘quite a bit’. They believed that in general, participants showed open-mindedness about solving the problem, that the agreements were quite fair and that the likelihood that they would be honoured was high. They felt that there was some undue pressure on participants, the cases were considered quite appropriate for CJFs and the damages from wrong actions were likely to be repaired. The offenders and their supporters both seemed to have realized the impact of the wrong actions on others, and finally, CJFs seemed to have answered victims’ questions and brought about a sense of closure. As can be seen, the immediate feedback of the facilitators was really positive in almost all respects, and mirrored the data obtained from CJF participants themselves.
Results of the present study provided strong support for the claim of the advocates of restorative justice philosophy. However, this was not a controlled experiment, the sample was not random or sufficiently large, and data collection was not as systematic as desired. Yet, the internal consistency of the results, and the similarity of the present findings with the available research literature including studies that involved controlled experiments seem to lend validity to the findings. It is also evident from the results that the restorative justice initiative, initially considered as an extension of the Aboriginal Justice Strategy, has expanded far beyond the Aboriginal communities into the mainstream, and communities who are informed of this approach are usually receptive to it.
Recommendations and Future Implications
- Training Standard for Facilitators: Without some minimal standard of training, we risk causing harm to communities instead of restoring harmony through joint problem-solving in a caring, respectful environment. We also risk losing credibility for this relatively recent restorative approach itself.
- Prior Briefing of CJF Participants: It is of utmost importance that all potential CJF participants are fully informed of how CJFs work and what to expect at the forum. This step should also help alleviate the undue pressure perceived and reported by some participants.
- Possibility of power imbalance at CJFs: The facilitator has to get together a genuine ‘community of care’ to participate at the forum, and to ensure that all participants have equal input into the process and outcome. The facilitator also has to ensure that the focus of the forum remains on solving problems or undoing the harm and not on assigning blame.
- Monitoring/Follow-up for agreement-compliance: In order to enhance the credibility of the CJF process, the facilitator must ensure proper follow-ups of agreement-compliance by offender(s).
- Applicability of CJFs: So far in Canada, most of the cases dealt with through CJFs have been conducted at the pre-charge stage (RCMP policy), and have involved property-crimes (e.g., B & E, theft, vandalism) or minor offenses such as bullying, drug possession and assault. Most interview participants, including facilitators were reluctant to recommend CJFs for cases that involve violent or serious crimes, many refused to consider this option for repeat offenders, and some, for adult offenders. But can CJFs be used for a wider variety of cases? Not just as a pre-charge mechanism, but as a restorative tool to be used at various stages of the judicial process, such as at the post-sentencing stage or pre-release stage? Given the limited but consistent empirical evidence regarding the satisfaction of all participants including victims, these questions merit serious consideration.
- Police Role: By the very nature of their duties as ‘gatekeepers’, the police most often have the first and direct contact with the victim and the offender. From the maximum resource utilization and immediate impact points of view it would be efficient for the police to resolve problems through CJFs. This type of proactive role of the police should also help the cause of community policing by enhancing the image of the police in the community which views the police only as a law-enforcer. CJFs constitute a powerful tool for community policing.
- Referrals. In this context of police role, clear but flexible policies and guidelines need to be established regarding referrals for CJFs. Policies should ensure that use of discretion is indeed unbiased to all. Practical policies and guidelines are also necessary to deal with cases where offenders are found not to comply with the CJF agreements without justification.
- Increased Education and Awareness: Continued efforts to increase education and awareness of police and the communities are essential for the success of this initiative.
- Documentation necessary for longitudinal analysis. Finally, this new approach can flourish only through careful longitudinal research demonstrating its usefulness, its limitations and an ongoing effort to improve the process. The preliminary findings gleaned from the present research project are undoubtedly encouraging, but systematic documentation (not necessarily extensive paper work) is absolutely essential for restorative justice to find a meaningful place in the Canadian justice system.
Thank you to the RCMP for the CJF model.