Restorative justice continues to offer a community based and minded approach to addressing the impacts of crime for both the victims and the perpetrators.
Established to bring community healing to the lakecity, the Williams Lake Community Council for Restorative Justice originated from the local RCMP’s community justice forums. Based on the Family Circles traditionally held by the Maori people of New Zealand, restorative justice takes the form of forums designed to maximize justice while promoting community healing.
On Saturday, Nov. 17 a dozen lakecity locals, new and old to the program, gathered at the Pioneer Complex for a workshop on how to host and implement these forums. Known as facilitators, these volunteer members of the community are integral in ensuring that the forums that bring the offender, the victims, their respective supporters and the RCMP go smoothly.
Co-facilitator of the council Sandra Hawkins, a long time member of the organization since 1998, said that they primarily handle cases directly from the RCMP and the Crown. These cases can include shoplifting, auto theft, vandalism, drug use and assault with offenders recommended based on the belief restorative justice will have a greater impact on the individual than traditional jail time.
Instead of going through the court system and people ending up with criminal records we try to resolve what the problem is, who the offender is, who has been affected and how can we make this right?” Hawkins said. “It’s very much a community process.”
An advantage they have when taking on cases is that the council’s facilitators often have more time to decide the appropriate action than judges are afforded in court. Sometimes, Hawkins said, they have found the offender will be a victim too as they discover what circumstances brought them to commit the crime.
From there, as far as the offender is concerned, their goal is to set them on a different path through counselling, rehab or community service as necessary.
“Basically what judges, the Crown and other people tell us is that you have a better shot at rehabilitation than we do,” Hawkins said. “Where you can especially with young offenders and First Nations People find a way other than the court system and incarceration.”
Despite this, however, Hawkins has observed a more restorative justice approach in traditional justice and law enforcement, as her own organization originated from and is still closely partnered with the RCMP.
When it comes to the victims of the crime the goal is healing and understanding. Hawkins said that first and foremost they want them to feel safe again in the community and to help them understand why the offender did what they did.
Taking all this into account, for prospective facilitators like the ones she was training earlier this month, Hawkins said preparation beforehand is integral for ensuring the success of these circles. Oftentimes, she and other facilitators will spend extensive time conducting research and interviews, while preparing participants for what will happen and will be expected of them.
All of this is to ensure that, when the forum occurs, the problem is already on its way to being resolved, rather than only being addressed at that moment.
“We know, going into it, we can’t solve this person’s and the communities’ problems just ‘Bang!’ but we’ve had some pretty good results and people understanding that we’re here to help you and what is it you need, so you stop offending?” Hawkins said.
After the forum or forums depending on the case, the facilitator will then, at a resolution conference, with the help of all involved parties, decide upon the appropriate course of action. This might be connecting the offender with the tools to change their behaviour, compensation for the victim and or consequences for the offender.
No matter the decision, it’s key that all parties present agree to and support the disposition. After the sanctions are completed, the case will be reviewed to see if its intended purpose has been met.
According to Hawkins, the organization currently handles an average of 60 cases a year with roughly 54 members of the community involved as facilitators, advisors and support roles. One of these advisors is RCMP Inspector Jeff Pelley, who was on hand to award certificates to those who completed the training.
Of the dozen or so people who came to this past training session, 100 per cent showed an interest in continuing on to become mentored by experienced facilitators according to Hawkins. Should they move forward they would join the 40 facilitators working in Williams Lake to bring restorative justice to victims and offenders.
“It’s really to bring the community together, to keep offenders from re-offending, to help victims feel that they have had justice and that they don’t need to be afraid anymore, Hawkins said.
For more information on restorative justice and what it offers the community, contact the Manager of Community Policing at 250-392-8701.