Restorative Justice is not the easy way out.
It’s not a slap on the wrist or a way to make excuses. It’s about finding the appropriate solution for a particular crime.
It’s knowing there is more than one way to right a wrong. And in Chilliwack, the Restorative Justice and Youth Advocacy Association (CRJYAA) has been helping offenders and victims get that sense of restitution for 20 years now through their restorative response program.
“That’s the one people think of when they think of restorative justice,” says CRJYAA executive director, Amanda Macpherson.
“We bring the victim and the offender together, and we hash out an agreement that keeps the offender out of jail and the victim has control, unlike the court system, where they may or may not get a sense of justice.”
It brings the two parties face to face, when appropriate and agreed upon by both of them. And that can be especially effective in itself, she says, especially for younger or first-time offenders.
“It’s a lot easier to go in front of a judge, and have someone speak for you,” Macpherson says. “It’s different when you’re sitting knee to knee. The cost of entry (to restorative justice) is admitting what you’ve done and you have to look them in the eye and say ‘I did this. I’m responsible for the fear, anger and frustration that you have.’”
Restorative Justice is not suitable for every crime, or offender, or victim. But when it is suitable, the results are solidly in favour of continuing the practice.
“Our successful case closure rate is about 83 or 84 per cent,” Macpherson says. “These are folks that have done everything they said they were going to do.”
And if the numbers aren’t enough, the past clients are a testament to the local program’s success. Multiple past clients have given their time and resources to helping build up CRJYAA, because they were so happy with the results.
This is evident through the packed storeroom of donations from those clients, many of them handmade and delivered to the society’s office on Wellington Ave., in the Chilliwack Community Policing office.
Those items will be up for silent auction at their major fundraiser later this month, Denim and Dice. All of the proceeds from the casino-themed night out go toward the restorative response program. And that includes the silent auction, a live auction, a 50/50 raffle, and a WestJet ticket raffle.
They’ve posted all of the silent auction items on their website, at restoringjustice.ca, along with full details about the event.
Denim and Dice is a more laid-back event than some of the galas that take place throughout the year. There will be a Mexican barbecue by Alicia’s Flavours, the band Appaloosa will be playing, and Trevor McDonald will emcee. The dress code is country, and the theme is a casino night.
It’s a fun way to support the hard work done by the many volunteers, board members, RCMP partners, and the small staff that keeps the CRJYAA programs going, Macpherson says.
“The majority of our facilitations are done by volunteers,” she says. “It’s basically a big match-making game. When we get a file, we look it over and look at the particulars, and decide who would be the best person to deal with that.”
While they work with many youth, they have clients of all ages, even seniors. Their youngest client so far has been eight; their oldest, 89.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act was changed in 2008 so that extra judicial measures now have to be considered, and restorative justice is one of those measures. Prior to that, Canada had one of the highest rates of youth incarceration in the world, MacPherson says.
Macpherson has seen the good that the program can do, up close.
“There was one file I was involved with, and it was a fairly serious crime,” she says. “When we got into the details of it, there was so much loss in this person’s life, and complicating health factors, and stress. When we were looking at it, we said if this had gone to the criminal court system, would they have considered all of this?”
“We’re trying to catch the ones we can,” she adds, “And as much as people think we’re bleeding hearts, it’s a case of we’re not going to catch everybody. This isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. Yes, we’ve seen it happen. But that’s not the majority of what we see.”
Having a criminal record is a key indicator for poverty, she adds. Their goal is to set people back on the right path, and let them close a chapter in their lives.
“A lapse in judgment should not define you for the rest of your life,” she says. “If we don’t give people a chance to change their behaviour they begin to feel they are defined by their behaviour.
To purchase tickets for Denim and Dice, on April 27 at Tzeachten Hall, visit the Chilliwack Restorative Justice office at the Chilliwack Crime Prevention Society building, at 45877 Wellington Avenue or visit their Eventbrite page online.
For more information, phone 604-393-3023.