A look inside Restorative Justice

This week, Nov. 13-20, has been declared Restorative Justice Week in B.C.

  • Nov. 15, 2011 7:00 a.m.

“Catch it while it’s still hot,” restorative justice coordinator Kristine Atkinson said about emotion.

Emotion, not only from the victims of crime, but also from the offenders that come through Campbell River’s restorative justice program in lieu of facing charges and time in court for minor crimes.

“A lot of people (offenders) come in and they feel shame right the moment they walk in,” explained Atkinson. “They’re really embarrassed or some people come in in tears.”

This week, Nov. 13-20, has been declared Restorative Justice Week in B.C. Many communities in the province have embraced the program, according to a proclamation signed by the Honourable Steven L. Point, Lieutenant Governor of B.C.

The program diverts minor offenses from the court system, and Atkinson said the program works–even better than the court system with minor offenses.

“It has more impact on the offender,” said Atkinson. “The offender is still sort of reeling from what happened, and the victims are still in that place of anger or sadness.”

Atkinson is contracted by the city to run the program and works 30 hours a week.

Usually within two weeks of a crime, she mediates a group discussion between the victims, offenders and police where the crime and the resulting impacts on the victims are discussed.

The Mirror sat in on a meeting on Monday. A 19-year-old man, whose name is being withheld in exchange for a look at how a restorative justice hearing works, was arrested for public intoxication during the evening of Sat., Oct. 30 in downtown Campbell River.

According to Const. Matt Holst, business owners along Shoppers Row found 19 large flower pots and some statues had been flipped over the next morning.

Some of the flower pots were broken, and one of the statues had a fin broken off.

The young man in custody said that he was the one who had vandalized the area.

“You were extended this opportunity because you were honest, I guess, forthcoming,” said Holst to the offender during the meeting.

“And you didn’t seem like a bad guy when we were talking to you when you were sober.”

If he had been charged with mischief, the young man would have a criminal record, even if he got off light, through the court system.

Const. Chris Sanchez, the other officer involved in the investigation, mentioned the offender was considering a career in the armed forces, which would be unlikely with a criminal record.

A criminal record “is a very limiting thing especially for a young guy like yourself,” said Sanchez, adding that a record “probably would affect (a possible armed forces career) very negatively.”

The offender did not have a criminal history and had very limited dealings with police in the past, which was why he was given this one chance to avoid a criminal record; if he is arrested for anything else in the future, restorative justice won’t be an option.

Holst said a reason he chooses to route crimes through the program is so the offender see the impacts of the crime.

“This kind of allows you to put some faces to what you’ve done,” said Holst.

“And you’re going to put more faces when you go down and make your apologies.”

The offender went downtown and personally apologized to every business that was affected by the vandalism over the next couple of days, which was many of the businesses along Shoppers Row between 13th Ave. and Cheesecake 101 on the Island Highway.

He also apologized to Downtown Business Improvement Association (BIA) chair Erika Anderson, who was at the meeting.

“I’m the one who hires people to plant those planters,” said Anderson to the offender, adding that the money comes from the BIA’s limited budget. “We’ve got to spend a bit more money fixing up the plantings so what’s that going to take away from?”

According to Anderson, each planter costs about $45 to refill with plants, which all died when they were tipped over.

However, the planters were going to be replanted within a few weeks anyways because of the time of year.

Anderson also pointed out that a large planter owned by Still Water Books and Art was broken beyond repair and cost about $200 for that business.

“This has been a very slow year for a lot of businesses and a lot of businesses are just sort of holding on by their fingertips,” said Anderson, adding that spending money to fix the planters “is not insignificant to them.”

Besides the personal apologies, the young man must pay Still Water Books and Art $200 to replace the planter and do one day of community service to help him understand that a community is not a faceless entity, but is made up of individuals.

He is a carpenter, so he will also build some new trough style wooden planters which were severely damaged in front of Shot in the Dark.

If he fails to complete these tasks he can still be formally charged and sent through the court system.

While he spoke little during the group discussion, he looked uncomfortable, and Anderson said everyone is different in how they show their emotion, but she believes he is remorseful.

“He was shaking and he was really red in the face right from the moment I saw him in the lobby. I think he’s probably just a guy of less words,” Anderson explained, adding that she thinks this discussion was successful.

According to Atkinson, the program diverted about 70 cases from the court system in 2010, and she expects to do about the same by the end of this year.

She mentioned some minor offenses can take up to a year and half in the courts, and diverting offenders from that system saves time and money all around.

“We save tons of money. We save all the court costs, we save tons of money for the RCMP; the officers aren’t required to be in court. We save the time that it takes them to write up to Crown,” said Atkinson. “It’s an incredible cost savings in terms of the time.”