Restorative Justice is a different way of justice that brings the victim, offender and community together to resolve the harms of crime and understand its impact on our lives. This is the first article in a series that looks at the people involved with restorative justice programs in Winnipeg.
Restorative justice might be hard to define, but most of the definitions seem to have one thing in common – describing it as a way to bring people who have been impacted by a crime together to help them deal with the effects of the crime.
Academic Tony Marshall calls restorative justice “a process where all the parties with a stake in a particular offence come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future”. In his book The Politics of Restorative Justice, Andrew Woolford, a professor of criminology at The University of Manitoba, defined restorative justice as an “attempt to address the harm caused by crime in a manner that meets specific needs of the involved parties while using the resources available.”
But Amanda Nelund, a fourth-year criminology PhD candidate at The University of Manitoba, has another way of describing restorative justice.
“Restorative justice is this totally different way of talking about justice that focuses on the victim and the harm that was done, rather than just focusing on the offender and the punishment that needs to happen,” says Nelund.
In a large classroom overlooking the quad at the U of M, Nelund teaches an introduction to criminology class twice a week.
“The way I teach restorative justice to my intro criminology class is by using the three big questions that each system asks. The criminal justice system asks – who committed a crime? What crime was it? What should the response be? Whereas a restorative approach would ask – who has been harmed? What needs do they have? And whose obligation is it to meet those needs?”
Nelund says it’s the relationships between people that restorative justice heals, builds, and bridges that have the biggest potential to be transformative. She uses the hypothetical example of an aboriginal young offender who has stolen from a store as situation where restorative justice could be socially transformative.
“RJ can get those people and their families and community members talking about bigger issues – about the social conditions for many indigenous people in Winnipeg- and how those social conditions are structured by poverty and racism, and how that’s affected this young person’s life,” Nelund says.
“If you can get the victim to realize that they’ve never had to think about any of that before because maybe they’re a member of the dominant white group in Canada but they connect this person they’ve met with some of the bigger issues that they may have heard about on the news… Now they have that direct link that they can see and hopefully connect to those bigger social issues.”
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Nelund’s bookshelf in her office is packed full of textbooks and studies on restorative justice and feminist approaches to criminology. She says academic studies indicate RJ does have an impact on re-offending and victim satisfaction, and pulls books off the shelf, trying to find the study.
“RJ does lower recidivism rates, and generally victims and offenders are more satisfied with restorative justice processes than they are with traditional court ones.”
As Nelund searches, she discusses a recent study by Australian criminologist Kathleen Daly that indicated that “the majority of victims wanted to meet with their offenders, and were happy with the outcomes and satisfied by what happened when they met.” The study is a curious case in criminology because of the seriousness of the offences, since restorative justice typically tends to be done with lower-end offences.
“(The Australian study) is a really big one, and they do some really direct comparisons between court cases and restorative justice processes,” says Nelund. “You can get a direct comparison to see that this many people were satisfied with the court, and this many of the same types of people dealing with the same types of offences were satisfied with the RJ process.”
One of the most common restorative justice processes in Canada is the victim-offender mediation conference. In Winnipeg, Onashowewin Inc. and Mediation Services offer victim-offender mediation programs.
“I think you have a lot of programs here and across Canada doing things that aren’t even quite victim-offender mediation, but that have taken the restorative justice label,” Nelund says.
Some of the programming that the Salvation Army and other programs in the city, like Just TV at the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre, could also be considered restorative justice.
“They’re community alternatives – it brings people out of the criminal justice system, and everything they do is based on building those relationships and respect, meeting people where they are, and trying to help and heal offenders. I think all those programs are doing really great work – and in terms of us being informed citizens about our justice system and how we respond to offenders, people should definitely know more about them.”
The next article in this series focuses on youth at the Just TV program at the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre.
Restorative Justice Week runs from Nov. 17-24, 2013.
As part of Restorative Justice Week celebrations, you can attend a free event showcasing work from Just TV, a talent show, and chili cook-off on Nov. 20, from 5 – 7 p.m. at the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre. Call 204-336-3600 for more information.
Other articles in this series: