Restorative Justice volunteers needed

The Williams Lake Community Council for Restorative Justice is seeking volunteers.

The Williams Lake Community Council for Restorative Justice is seeking volunteers.

In more than a decade since the group’s inception, it has facilitated an estimated 300 “circles” aimed at “righting wrongs and repairing relationships.”

Community-justice forums and peace-making circles are the two primary methods used for cases as diverse as those referred by Crown Counsel and the RCMP, the school district or resolving a community dispute as requested.

Sandra Hawkins is a facilitator/trainer who recently received a Solicitor General Crime Prevention and Community Safety award for her work. Having trained volunteer facilitators, Hawkins knows the benefits reaped by both them and the community.

Hawkins became involved in restorative justice after retiring. As a law teacher at Columneetza Secondary School, she sought a position that would use her skills and give back to the legal community that had given much to her students.

“Once I got doing a few circles and seeing how successful they have been, I have just ever since decided it’s a good place to put in some time,” she says.

An offender is typically referred to restorative justice and must admit guilt and show remorse for his/her actions. In the circle, offenders and victims — each accompanied by a small support network — along with several community members work with a facilitator and co-facilitator to listen, understand and make recommendations as to how the offender can be redeemed.

For Criminal Code offences, the circles are commonly used in lieu of court proceedings as well as for school issues prior to a student’s suspension or in lieu of a suspension, says Hawkins.

In most cases the recommendations made in the circle are final; in criminal cases Crown Counsel collaborates with restorative justice officials in advance to ensure a mutually satisfactory resolution or referral.

Hawkins has seen many cases proceed through the restorative justice channels. She remembers one in particular where youth were involved in rolling burning tires down into the river valley trail, which started a fire in the valley that burned for five days. To rectify their actions, the youth were instructed to write a letter to the newspaper explaining their actions and were instructed to spend some time cleaning up the area.

Other examples of restorative justice in action include: working for the seniors centre, carrying out household chores for the victim if they so choose, or researching their actions and the consequences of their actions.

Although statistics are not kept, anecdotally, Hawkins says in her experience no offender has returned to the circle a second time.

There are currently 20 volunteers but they’re seeking about 10 more. Volunteers are required to complete a three-day training, attend monthly meetings, as well as co-facilitate a number of circles as practice. Once they are qualified, they are put in a rotation and will be requested to facilitate a circle when needed.

Volunteers are able to decline an assignment due to conflict of interest or time.

The benefit of restorative justice is this, says Hawkins: “If you have a community that gets along well it’s a much better community and that’s really what restorative justice is about is relationships — people working together and getting along and having trust in one another.”

Individuals who are interested in getting involved with restorative justice can call Dave Dickson at 250-392-8701 or Hawkins at 250-392-2346 or by e-mail at sandra.hawk