For teenagers, being in trouble with the law can feel like the end of the world.
They may ask, ‘how did I get into this mess?’
Maybe they were in the wrong place at the wrong time or got mixed up with the wrong people.
But no matter why they’re in trouble, it’s Restorative Justice’s focus to get them back on track. Through a series of meetings, young offenders can often stay out of the traditional court system. They meet with their victims, and other people in the community impacted by their crimes.
Those meetings are made possible by a group of dedicated mentors and facilitators. In Chilliwack, there are about 40 adults who give their time to Restorative Justice. Many of those volunteers end up driving to Agassiz to help the youth in this community says Kim McLandress, executive director of Chilliwack Restorative Justice.
“We really want to build up a volunteer base in Agassiz,” she says.
The kids who are eligible to participate in Restorative Justice are generally first time offenders who have admitted their guilt and are prepared to do some work to repay the community for the harm they’ve caused.
“Just having someone support them “can make a difference in a young offender’s life,” she says.
The typical volunteer facilitator has a few hours a week, or month, to spend with a youth.
“They’ll have some sort of life skills,” McLandress says, and generally want to give back to the community.
In Agassiz this past year, Restorative Justice handled 23 referrals. In Hope, where they’re also looking for volunteers, the number was 16.
The local RCMP say that most kids who go through the program don’t seem to re-offend.
“I think it works for most kids,” says Sgt. Mike McCarthy.
For those who don’t follow through with the program, or who re-offend, the next step is the regular court system.
“This is all about having accountability for what they’ve done,” McCarthy says. “Often the kid was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Facing a victim, and doing some sort of community service, helps put their crime in perspective, he adds.
Volunteers are given thorough training, McLandress says, and sit through a handful of sessions with a trained facilitator before handling cases themselves.
Whether someone volunteers for a year, or a lifetime, those mediation skills are good to have, she adds.
While it can sometimes be emotional, even heated, during mediations between victims and offenders, McLandress says that the program is only available in cases where everyone involved is willing to participate.
“Everyone has to agree to be involved,” she says. “If the offender is not willing to accept responsibility, it’s not going to work.”
There are bonuses for the victims of crime to be involved in Restorative Justice, too.
In a typical court case, a victim will usually never get to ask an offender questions, or explain how they’ve been wronged.
And that’s an important piece of the puzzle when a victim is trying to forgive and move on, McLandress says.
“This way they can communicate back and forth,” she says. “They can address the person directly. They can get an apology, and answers. They can get some closure.”
For more information on volunteering as a mentor/facilitator, visit www.restoringjustice.ca or email McLandress at firstname.lastname@example.org.