Helping victims heal, and holding offenders accountable

Restorative Justice Week helps strengthen Alberta’s communities

Restorative justice is an old practice with a modern name. It is a process that has its roots in Aboriginal teachings and dispute resolution techniques used by faith communities – and it is growing rapidly in Alberta.

It has grown so much that this year the Alberta Restorative Justice Association – funded in part by Justice and Solicitor General – is holding its seventh annual conference. The conference takes place during Restorative Justice Week (November 17 to 24), and features presentations from experts in the field. It covers topics such as restorative justice in federal prisons, and lessons learned from conflicts in other countries, including Northern Ireland. Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Jonathan Denis is attending the conference.

In restorative justice programs, victims and offenders are brought together in facilitated sessions to help determine an appropriate solution. In doing so, programs offer an innovative and effective way to help victims heal, and hold offenders accountable for the harm they have done.

“Alberta has a strong restorative justice network,” said Carsten Erbe, director of crime prevention and restorative justice at Justice and Solicitor General. “A lot of great things are happening in this field that we need to acknowledge and celebrate as we work together to create safer communities.

“It is not an easy way out,” continued Erbe. “These restorative justice programs are an alternative or supplement to any sentence the court may impose, and can be initiated at any time during the criminal justice process.”

There are many different types of restorative justice. Every community’s needs are different, and every crime is different, so three common restorative justice models have evolved, all involving some form of encounter between the victim and the offender:

  • Family group (or community) conferencing;
  • Circles (sentencing circles, healing circles, or peace circles); and
  • Victim-offender mediation.

To support these different approaches, the province runs the Alberta Community Restorative Justice Grants program. Under this program, $360,000 is provided to support restorative justice initiatives across Alberta. Also, the province’s Inclusive Restorative Practices Grant from the Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund helps make culturally sensitive restorative justice programming available to all Albertans.

Alberta also has the largest network of youth justice committees in Canada. There 130 of these committees across that the province that help victims, offenders and members of the community resolve conflict through dialogue and negotiation. And GoA has funded the committees for fourteen consecutive years to help keep young people who have committed offences for the first or second time from entering a life of crime.

And Justice and Solicitor General will continue to work with the community to address the root causes of crime in our neighbourhoods.

“Restorative Justice Week is a great time to recognize our accomplishments, identify challenges, and thank volunteers and stakeholders who have made restorative justice in this province such a success,” said Erbe. “While more remains to be done to broaden the understanding of restorative justice, and make it accessible to all, the future looks bright for restorative justice in Alberta.”

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