Restorative Justice Week helps strengthen Alberta’s communities

Not just another shoplifting statistic

In some instances, the traditional approaches offered by the criminal justice system aren’t the best in meeting the needs of the all the stakeholders involved in a criminal event. Take the case of one local youth who found herself in conflict with the law after being caught shoplifting.  This young woman could have gone through a more formal process without direct input from the victim (the store) as to the best resolution of the matter.  Resolution and accountability can be achieved in a different way, where victims and offenders voluntarily come together to resolve the situation without the costs and procedure of the justice system.

Enter restorative justice, where victims and offenders are brought together in facilitated sessions to determine an appropriate solution to a criminal event. In so doing, restorative justice programs offer an innovative and effective way to help victims heal and yet still hold offenders accountable for the harm they caused.

In the case of the youth caught shoplifting, she voluntarily enrolled into an Edmonton-area restorative justice program in conjunction with local law enforcement.  The program facilitates a meeting between store representatives and the offenders who shoplifted from them.  The goal is to acknowledge the true costs of shoplifting on the store, while providing the opportunity for the offender take accountability and repair the harm caused by the event.  Most importantly, however, are the learnings and insight everyone gains from the conversation itself, which is often very personal and ends up driving the motivation for future decision-making and behaviour.

The following are some excerpts from the offender’s letter of apology to the store after the facilitated meeting took place:

The reality hit me that I had done something so irresponsible and that I had to learn the consequences for it. Sitting in that room, waiting for my Dad to pick me up, I hated myself so much for doing that to him and wasting the time of so many people’s lives, it was the worst feeling I had ever experienced. 

I never thought that I was a person who was capable of breaking the law. Completely naive of me but when someone pictures there [sic] life it isn’t sitting at a computer and writing an apology letter for a mistake they will regret for the rest of their life. I have been forced to look at myself in a completely different light.

Alberta supports restorative justice programming through the Alberta Community Restorative Justice Grants program. Under this program, $360,000 in total 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 has the largest network of youth justice committees in Canada, with 131 committees across the province helping victims, offenders and members of the community resolve conflict through dialogue and negotiation. Government has funded the committees for 15 consecutive years to help keep young people who have committed offences for the first or second time from entering a life of crime.

The third week in November is celebrated internationally as Restorative Justice Week. This year’s theme is Inspiring Innovation: Innovations and Transformation, with the annual National Restorative Justice Symposium being held from November 16 to 18. Evidence that restorative justice is making a difference is found in the lines of the young woman’s letter:

To this day it is involving people from organizations and programs that I did not even know existed. Everyday a store loses money because of people making the same choice that I had and I regret it completely.

I am going to complete this program to prove to not only myself but to you as well that teenagers can take responsibility for their actions. I want to prove that my friend and I aren’t just a part of a shoplifting statistic.

I would like to take complete responsibility for the theft I had been a part of and to sincerely apologize for that decision.

This week, sincere thanks to all the volunteers and stakeholders who are helping people—like this youth—appreciate the consequences of their actions and make amends in an innovative, caring approach that brings victims and offenders together in a safe space to resolve the event outside the courtroom. Restorative Justice Week runs from November 16 to 22.

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