A dozen years ago someone broke in through my window, walked across my bed with muddy shoes, and proceeded to wander through my house when I was at work. He was surprised by one of my teenaged kids, and he fled. Later, after he was caught, a pattern of behavior was identified; the result was a court date and, I presume, a record.
I was conflicted: there’s something really creepy about an intruder in your home, a place one would expect to feel safe. On the other hand, no real harm was done — and presumably there was more to the story. But it was out of my hands, and it’s bothered me ever since.
According to the book Restorative Justice: How it Works by Marian Liebmann, the first recorded victim-offender mediation and reparation service in this hemisphere took place in Ontario in 1974, when a Mennonite probation officer brought two young men face to face with the victims whose houses they had vandalized so they could apologize.
It paved the way for the establishment of restorative justice programs, now worldwide, and while similar practices go back a long way in some First Nations and other communities, giving something an official framework — with guiding principles and training — goes a long way to making things work.
Last year restorative justice consultant and trainer Gerry Sobie dropped in to the library to chat with me about restorative justice (RJ for short). The Nelson Police Department had just set up a program, and he was looking for the library’s support in making RJ materials available to volunteers.
I’m pleased to say that thanks to Gerry’s initiative, we now have a strong collection of books and DVDs on this excellent topic. This year, we’ll host a free interactive restorative justice event, presented by RJ coordinator Anita Werner and Gerry Sobie, on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.
This is great, because while I’ve learned a few things about restorative justice, there’s clearly a whole lot more for me to learn. Restorative justice takes into consideration the root causes of crime, relying on the involvement and commitment of citizens to achieve justice in the wake of an offense. It’s a human approach to a human situation, because, as Howard Zehr — an RJ authority — says, “crime is a violation of people and relationships.”
We have two of Zehr’s books on our shelves, including The Little Book of Restorative Justice and Changing Lenses: a New Focus of Crime and Justice. We also have a number of scholarly books such as Restorative Justice, Reconciliation, and Peacebuilding, and Crime, Shame, and Reintegration by John Braithwaite. Kaslo’s Heartspeak Productions created DVDs on the topic, which they donated to the library. Books such as Walking After Midnight: One Woman’s Journey Through Murder, Justice and Forgiveness by Katy Hutchinson offers a personal perspective.
There is not one of us who has not at some time in our lives been outraged, felt victimized, experienced a sense of violation. I’ll guess that there is not one of us who, faced with those feelings, hasn’t wondered if there might have been a better way to reconcile the situation. Restorative justice might have answered some of those questions for me all those years ago, and in doing so, left me with a greater sense of peace.
I expect the event will change a few assumptions about how to manage crime in a way that addresses the needs and concerns of the victim in a collaborative, non-adversarial, grassroots manner. And I expect to be fascinated.
So put down that blockbuster. Come to the library, check out our RJ books and DVDs, and find out more about Restorative Justice on Nov. 19. It promises be a valuable experience for anyone attending.
Anne DeGrace is the adult services coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information go to nelsonlibrary.ca.