Court Sentencing Vs Restorative Justice

    We are all familiar with the traditional ‘you commit a crime you pay the price’; youth commit a crime, are sent to court, found guilty and are sentenced.  But in Innisfail, Alberta, a new process of dealing with offenders is being used. On November 20th, 2013 approximately 60 people from Wetaskiwin, Ponoka, Falun, Maskwasic Hobbema, and Buck Mountain gathered at By-The-Lake Park hall to hear Mr. JJ Beauchamp, of the Innisfail Restorative Justice Society, share some of the successes they are enjoying using a sentencing process called Restorative Justice.

    The Wetaskiwin Restorative Justice and Samson Restorative Justice Programs planned and hosted the workshop during Restorative Justice Week, by inviting community leaders to learn how a community can create and implement their own Restorative Justice programs. Beauchamp explained that Restorative Justice is an approach focused on repairing harm when a wrong-doing or injustice occurs in a community. Depending on the process or technique used, restorative justice involves the victim, the offender, their social networks, justice agencies, and the community. 
    Community involvement from victims, offenders and communities is changing the way society looks at crime prevention.  With involvement they are all included as stakeholders in the restorative justice process.
    In the Restorative Justice process the youth offender commits a crime and then begins a series of sessions with the victims of the crime and other selected members of the community. Mr. Beauchamp explained that this process is changing the way society looks at crime prevention.  With involvement, they are all included as stakeholders in the restorative justice process.
Story about Steven stealing a bike
    Beauchamp illustrated how Restorative Justice can be successful. “Everyone seeks a sense of belonging and will find it, but sometimes not in the right places.” He then related the story about Steven, a 17 year old youth. “His file only dealt with the facts and the witness and offenders testimonies. Significant circumstances surrounding the case were left out. For our hearing panel, these circumstances were the keys to listening differently and changing the course of this youth’s future.”
    Steven was required to appear before the Innisfail Restorative Justice panel. After the proper introductions and explaining the purpose of the panel, the panel asked Steven what happened and the reason for his actions.  “Steven started to tell us that he and a few friends had seen the bike in the back yard and it was never used. So they decided to take it and hide it for a while, then go for rides later. Being the biggest of the bunch, he was told to go and get it. 
     I asked where the father was. Steven proceeded to tell us that his father was killed in an accident 2 years ago, and his brother had a brain injury from that same incident. Because his father was gone, he now had a part-time job after school to help his mother and his brother. He continued to talk about his mother’s cancer diagnosis and how she had about a year to live.”
    Steven explained to the panel that his actions were selfish and that he felt sorry for himself because he had no friends. “When he was invited to hang around with this new group, he took the opportunity. He went on to say that this period of his life was a bad one and that the best thing that had happened was that he was arrested. The arresting officer stated that he had never met such an honest kid in his 10 years with the force.”
     Shortly after, Beauchamp was speaking at a service club meeting and related this story.  Ted, a member of the audience, approached him and asked if he could talk to this kid. Because of confidentiality, Beauchamp got Ted’s telephone number and forwarded it to Steven. Steven is a full-time employee as an apprentice welder in Ted’s company.
    “All of this was possible because trained and committed volunteers took the time to listen to Steven. Those of us on the panel collaboratively created a plan of action that allowed him to start a new life and avoid having a criminal record over his head.”
    Restorative Justice in Wetaskiwin and region
    With the support of an Alberta Provincial Crime Prevention Grant, the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin is able to continue the Restorative Justice Program in Wetaskiwin.   The program enables victims and offenders the opportunity to take part in a community-based program that not only offers help for victims to heal but allow young offenders the chance to voluntarily take responsibility for their actions.  
    The local program works in partnership with community agencies, departments and the local Wetaskiwin and District Restorative Justice Advisory Committee, by recruiting and training volunteers and works with the Crown, the Courts and area schools to raise awareness of the impact of youth crime in our community.
     Restorative justice facilitators view a crime as harm done to a person or community, not  
 just violation of the law.  Facilitators work with victims and offenders to make things right  by addressing the harm to victims, and the community.  
    Alberta Restorative Justice Association (ARJA) is composed of organizations and individuals dedicated to increasing understanding of restorative justice and how it can benefit communities. ARJA encourages community action that strengthens existing restorative justice programs and encourages the development of new restorative justice programs in communities in Alberta. 
    For more information, contact Kelsy Bradford (Wetaskiwin Boys and Girls Club) at 780-361-1950 extension 2.  

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