Tuesday, June 18, 2024
June 18, 2024

Viewpoint: Restorative Justice has many uses for building community

Submitted by Restorative Justice Salt Spring Island

It’s Restorative Justice (RJ) Week in B.C.: a time to recognize the alternatives to the criminal justice system that exist in communities across Canada, and also here on Salt Spring Island.

Most people think of RJ as doing “community service hours” instead of jail time – but the processes used in RJ can be applied in schools, during conflicts and to bring communities together across differences.

In criminal cases, either the person harmed or the person causing harm can ask the RCMP to refer the case to restorative justice. If everyone involved agrees, then trained volunteers work to ensure everyone understands the process and is ready to participate. The person responsible for causing harm is supported to take responsibility for their actions and offer ways to repair the harm. The person affected is supported to express the impacts of the incident and to get the help they need to heal.

Often, other people are impacted by crime besides those directly involved. Family, friends, observers, arresting officers and the community as a whole often feel the impacts indirectly, but unlike traditional justice processes, their perspectives are invited into the RJ process.

Facilitators treat everyone equally, and no one is made to feel shame or blame – but rather to focus on taking responsibility and healing the harm. Everyone is brought together for a dialogue to hear the perspectives of all involved in a respectful way. The results are almost always a better understanding of the impacts of crime and the unique people involved, and an agreement about how the harm will be repaired. Sometimes that looks like physical labour, or paying for the damage, and sometimes it’s a meaningful and authentic apology.

But it’s always up to those involved, and the facilitators are not judges. The process is not about punishment, and in essence, that is what makes it different from the criminal justice system. The Salt Spring RJ program has facilitated hundreds of criminal cases over the years and actively works with the local RCMP detachment.

This idea of repairing harm and rebuilding relationships carries over into how restorative processes can be used in schools, at work, in families and in neighbourhoods. The intent is not to lay blame, but rather to bring people back together so that they can continue to work, learn or live together. The tools of “peacemaking circles” and making agreements about behaviours are used in situations of conflict or harm. But more importantly, restorative processes can be used to build relationships of trust, respect and kindness before conflicts or harm occur.

Restorative schools show huge reductions in the number of critical incidences, student suspensions and absences, along with big increases in student and staff retention, satisfaction and engagement with the school community. RJ Salt Spring is working with SD64 to explore how schools in the district can bring more restorative practices into daily life at school.

To find out more, see www.rjssi.org.

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