Blog: Restorative Justice and the Youth Offenders

September 21, 2020

Written by Aastha Tripathi, Practicum Student 

 

Crime is an offence that merits community condemnation and punishment, often by the 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 the harm caused to the victims is referred to as restorative justice. Restorative justice ensures that the offender is held accountable for his/her actions and directly works to repair the harm. Additionally, the victims are central to the process of resolving a crime. The ultimate goal of a restorative justice program is to reconcile between both parties. As opposed to the traditional justice system where in, the offender is held accountable only through punishment, the primary focus is on establishing guilt and blame and finally, the course of action is based upon the offender’s past behavior. I believe that solely focusing on  punishment is not an effective method of changing criminal behavior especially when it comes to young offenders. When addressing crimes committed by young offenders, it is essential to repair the community’s harmony and promote good relationships in order to better the young adult’s future.

A study prepared by the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime dissects the topic of Restorative Justice in Canada and the many components of this view on crime. According to the study, the Canadian criminal justice system requires many readjustments in order  to fully build peace within communities by serving the victims through restoring their losses and ensuring that the 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.

However, it is important to remember that there is always a need for the traditional justice system. An individual may still be dangerous even though the offender has complied with the restorative justice program and therefore, must spend time in a prison. The traditional justice system also provides the offender an opportunity to prove his/her innocence in the court if he/she has been wrongfully accused.  Restorative justice can only take place under circumstances where the offender admits guilt and accepts responsibility, the victim voluntarily agrees to participate in the program and trained facilitators are available in the community where a restorative program is put in place. Therefore, a restorative justice program is not suitable in every setting.

The study educates that organizing restorative justice for young offenders is a prominent movement in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Providing this opportunity for young offenders ensures that the community and the comforts of the community facilitate short term mentoring and supervision. There are eight such programs available for youths and adults in Alberta.

The Correctional Service of Canada Dispute Resolution Unit outlines these restorative justice programs throughout Canada. One program that promotes the belief that the central responsibility of addressing the disputes of criminal nature lies within the community and not just with the victims and their immediate family is called Peacemaking Circles. Rooted in Indigenous experience and tradition, peacemaking circles endorse the importance of addressing the criminal problem at hand as well as building a community. Peacemaking circles brings individuals together and builds trust, respect, intimacy, goodwill, belonging, generosity, mutuality and reciprocity. This process invites the individual to change his/her relationship with the community and thus ensuring a harmony within it.

Another program available to youth offenders is Family Group Conferencing. This concept directly involves the offender’s family and the victims holding the offender accountable, in teaching individual responsibility and addressing the harm caused. The primary focus of Family Group Conferencing is to repair the damage caused by an offence and to decrease the likelihood of future damage. This program is often facilitated before court sentencing and brings together young offender, their victim along with family members and community supporters. The conference follows a simple structure: offenders share about incident, their thought process and who they affected, victims, family of the offender and supporters describe the event and how they have been affected and 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, this program achieves the goal to repair the wounded relationship of the offender with the community and his/her family members while increasing the likelihood of the offender to commit crimes in the future.

A prominent success rate of the restorative justice program can be observed in British Columbia. Starting in 2011, minor youth crimes have been referred to a panel of police and social workers who determine whether the young offender should go to court or be referred to a restorative program. If the recommendation is for a program, a youth support worker reaches out to the victim and offender to discuss this approach. Since the program was introduced, more than three thousand cases of crimes which accounts seventy to eighty percent of the offences, have been dealt with in this fashion. An independent study conducted by the Social impact Analytics attested that restorative justice programs reduced the rate of reoffending by eighteen percent. Additionally, less than 1,160 young adults have received a criminal record.

Moreover, restorative programs in British Columbia “provided value for money to the public purse”. The independent analysis concluded that these programs cost the public one million dollars fewer in administration costs for the police and youth support service. Furthermore, it is estimated that three million dollars were spent on court order whereas, now less than a million is spent. A benefit of saving so much money is that it can be reinvested into the future of the youth. And such plans have been implemented. The government has reinvested 2 million in preventative services, like strengthening family relationships, preventing homelessness and ensuring young people are gaining the skills needed to be employed. In this way, restorative programs work to ensure that the young person’s life is not entirely altered due to a minor youthful indiscretion.

In conclusion, the study prepared by the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime suggests that the restorative justice program can be beneficial for victims, offenders and the community as, as the program enable them to express their emotions as a result of the crime and harm because of it. It is clear that sole punishment is not an effective method of addressing criminal behaviour when it comes to young offenders. A restorative approach ultimately heals the community and promotes healthy relationships for the youth.

 

References

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

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