The path to restorative justice

From Nov. 15 to 22 it is Restorative Justice Week.

Arne Petryshen

From Nov. 15 to 22 it is Restorative Justice Week.

Restorative justice is a court-diversion program — rather than going to court, it can be used to attempt to repair the harm that’s been done.

Doug McPhee, from the Cranbrook and District Restorative Justice Society, said there are some initial requirements before restorative justice is considered.

“The first is it has to be under the offences that we can cover under restorative justice,” McPhee said. “As far as the criminal system is concerned, we deal with things like mischief under $5,000, theft under $5,000 and assault, as long as it’s not family assault — violence against women and children we don’t deal with.”

He explained it diverges from the court system.

“In the court system, in some cases, it takes a considerable amount of time determining guilt,” he said. “With restorative justice, the offender admits to what he or she has done. The next part is that they need to be willing to repair the harm that they’ve done. Lastly the victim has to be willing to participate.”

If they can get all that together, then they work through restorative justice.

There are also a lot of forms of restorative justice.

“There is the traditional community forum approach to those sort of things,” he said. “Another alternative is the peace making circle, used for settling disputes and that sort of business.”

The society has an agreement with Crown council.

“If they see something that, as it works it’s way through, is more aptly handled by restorative justice, they can refer to us as well,” he say.

McPhee has been working in restorative justice with the society since 2004. His wife has been working at it since 2002.

“There are other people in the community that have been at it longer than us in terms of providing service to Cranbrook in terms of restorative justice,” he said. “We’ve all seen a lot of very nice solutions that do speak to the whole business of repairing the harm.”

He said another part of the business is recidivism. That is how often someone who has committed a crime recommits a crime.

He said the recidivism rates for those who go through restorative justice are lower.

“So they learn something from going through restorative justice,” he said. “They are connected with their victims and they see the impact of the poor choices that they’ve made, and it encourages them to not commit the same or similar offences in the future — which is what we all want.”

McPhee said another part of it is the stigmatization, as much of the time after going through the courts the person is labelled after they commit the crime.

“That encourages them to live a negative lifestyle, in my estimation,” he said. “Restorative justice encourages them to rebuild relationships between offender and their community of support and the victims in their community support. It removes all the labels and tries to bring people back to where they were before it happened.”

The Cranbrook and District Restorative Justice Society is a non-profit and depends on charitable donations to operate. He noted that the court system are tax payer funded and so societies like theirs lessen the burden on tax payers.

It has operated in Cranbrook as a society since October 2007, but has been around in other forms since 2000.

McPhee said he sees the advantages and benefits on a daily basis and that keeps him in it.

The society also supports the Highway of Tears showings coming up in the area later this month. The society is a partner in the Humanity Network, which is putting on the presentations of the documentary on Nov. 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the College of the Rockies and Nov. 26 at 1 p.m. at the Stage Door.