Blog: Restorative Justice and the Youth Offenders
Written by Aastha Tripathi, Practicum Student
Crime is considered an offence that merits community condemnation and punishment, often by way of fine or imprisonment. an alternative way to address conflict and crime that enables a community to facilitate a meaningful solution for the offences and harm caused to victims. It ensures that the offender is held accountable for their actions and is intended to directly address the harm caused. Additionally, victims are central to the process of resolving an offence: the goal of a restorative justice program is reconciliation between parties. The traditional justice system, on the other hand, holds the offender accountable only through punishment, where the primary focus is on establishing guilt and blame. Sentencing is often based upon the offender’s past behaviour. I believe that solely focusing on punishment is not an effective method of changing criminal behaviour, especially when it comes to young offenders. When addressing crimes committed by youth, it is essential to repair the harmony within the youth’s community and to foster positive social relationships between the youth and members of their community order to better the young adult’s future.
A study prepared by the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime (CRCVC) dissects the topic of restorative justice in Canada. According to the study, the Canadian criminal justice system requires many readjustments to build peace within communities—working to serve victims by restoring their losses caused by the offence and ensuring that offenders are held accountable for the harm that was caused. Thus, restorative justice programs are focused on four key values: encounter, amends, reintegration, and inclusion. That is, to create opportunities for the victim and offender to discuss the crime, expect offenders to repair the harm they have caused, restore victims and offenders back into society and provide opportunities for the community to participate in its resolution.
Restorative justice programming, however, is not suitable for every circumstance. An offender must first admit guilt and accept responsibility, the victim must voluntarily agree to participate in the program, and trained facilitators must be available in the community where the program is put in place.
According to the CRCVC study, efforts to organize restorative justice for young offenders is prominent in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Restorative justice programming for young offenders ensures that communities can facilitate short-term mentoring and supervision opportunities. There are eight such programs available for youths and adults across Alberta. The Correctional Service of Canada Dispute Resolution Unit these restorative justice programs. One program, called Peacemaking Circles, promotes the belief that addressing criminal disputes is the responsibility of an entire community, and not just with the victims and their family. Rooted in Indigenous experiences and traditions, Peacemaking Circles endorse the importance of addressing the crime as well as building community. Peacemaking Circles bring individuals together to establish trust, respect, intimacy, goodwill, belonging, generosity, mutuality, and reciprocity. This process invites an individual to change relationship with the community, creating harmony within it.
Another program available to youth offenders is Family Group Conferencing. This concept is about teaching personal responsibility and addressing harm caused by the crime. The primary focus of Family Group Conferencing is to repair the damage caused by an offence and to decrease the likelihood of future harm. This program is often facilitated before court sentencing and brings together the young offender, the victim(s), offender’s family and community supporters. The program follows a simple structure. First, offenders share their take on the incident, their thought process, and who they affected. Then the victim(s), family of the offender, and community members describe the event and how they have been affected. Finally, a “Restorative Action Plan” is set in motion so that the offender can take responsibility and move forward from the situation. In this way, the program acts to repair the wounded relationship of the offender with the community and their family, while decreasing the likelihood of re-offence in the future.
The CRCVC study suggests that a restorative justice program can be beneficial for victims, offenders, and communities, as the program enables everybody to express their emotions as a result of the crime and ensuing harm. It is clear that traditional punishment methods are not effective in addressing young offenders’ criminal behaviour. A restorative justice approach ultimately helps to heals the community and promotes healthy relationships for youth.
Peacemaking Circles: A process for solving problems and building community
Bawden, A. (2014). How restorative justice is steering young offenders away from crime | Anna Bawden. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/sep/17/restorative-justice-young-offenders-crime