Restorative justice is not a new concept to Nelson, but it’s not one many resort to or even know exists.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is simple enough. Instead of focusing on punishing the offender, the emphasis is instead placed on the needs of the victim, the offender and the community affected by the crime.
Offenders are held meaningfully accountable for their actions and must work hand-in-hand with everyone touched by the crime and a trained restorative facilitator to find a resolution. This “might include restitution (financial) or there’s community service,” says Nelson City Police Sgt. Howie Grant.
However it’s a program that cannot survive without the participation of the victim.
If the victim is not willing to participate then “we don’t proceed with the program,” says Grant.
While the restorative justice program is geared toward juveniles and first time offenders, there are circumstances under which young adults in their early 20s would be eligible for the program. It all hinges on the severity of the offense.
For those who believe the program offers criminals a way out of facing punishment for their crimes, Grant assures it “is only applied in very few instances of crime and to very few individuals.” Adding strength to the program is the success restorative justice has had in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Although the program is often met with skeptics there are several benefits to the program.
Nelson city councillor Bob Adams spoke about the issue at a recent council meeting telling his colleagues that one of the big benefits is that it frees up court time.
Grant says it’s a question of what the victim and offender stands to gain. While victims get the satisfaction of dealing one-on-one with their assailant, there is also the hope that “the person who committed the offense realizes how their actions impact people and that it doesn’t happen again.”
At the heart of the program the offender must acknowledge their actions, without this acknowledgement offenders are not even given the option of restorative justice.
“Most offenders that participate in the program do not reoffend,” says Grant. “[But if they do it’s] usually in a second offense we would pursue court… If they get the one shot at restorative justice and they reoffend then that option is not open anymore.”
The restorative justice program is overseen by the Ministry of Public Safety and the Solicitor General.
Restorative justice week is the third week in November in BC.