What kind of community do we want to live in? One where bad choices are always punished? Or one where there are second chances?
The Nelson Police Department is opting for the latter with the introduction of restorative justice as an option to criminal charges when a crime has been committed.In the face of crime and conflict, restorative justice is a philosophy and approach that views crime and conflict principally as harm done to people and relationships.The program is looking for volunteers, and is being led by NPD Sergeant Dino Falcone and coordinated by restorative justice program coordinator Gerry Sobie, who helped establish and run the Cranbrook RCMP restorative justice Program, from 2005 to 2009.
How does the restorative justice program work, what does it aim to do and where else is it in use?
A definition of restorative justice could be, “a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible.”
Translated in action, the Nelson Police Department restorative justice program would receive a file from an arresting officer. An individual has been charged with a criminal offense and accepts responsibility for his/her actions and is prepared to meet with the victim to begin to repair the harm resulting from the offense.
The victim is invited to participate. All those who voluntarily meet regarding this matter are prepared for the encounter. There may be supporters for the offender and victim as well as members of the community who have been affected by the incident.
The offender and victim agree on ways to begin repairing the harm done. Once the offender completes her/his agreement, the matter is resolved and does not proceed to the Criminal Justice system.
The offender has been given the opportunity to resolve this offense in an alternate manner that does not affect one’s criminal record.
Restorative justice programs have been implemented in many BC communities, in Canada and throughout the world. Actually, there are elements of restorative justice that originated with circle meetings Aboriginals used and developed over time. BC enjoys a reputation for having many different restorative justice programs. RCMP “E” Division has assigned staff to train volunteers in communities that wish to establish programs.
How do people get involved, how can the public help?
For the program to function, volunteers are required to take intensive training to learn how to meet with offenders and victims, prepare them for coming together, conducting the meetings, and mentor offenders to successfully complete their agreements.
Sgt. Falcone assures that appropriate files will be diverted to restorative justice once volunteers are available to handle them.
Without volunteers, the program will not function. Expectations would be prospective volunteers complete an application, meet for an interview, submit to a criminal record check, and be prepared to commit up to 10 hours a month to volunteering and training.
Applications for volunteers are available on the Nelson Police Department website (www.nelsonpolice.ca) or at the front desk of the Station at 606 Stanley Street. Anyone interested is asked to complete an application and submit to Nelson Police Department restorative justice program either by mail or dropped off.
What’s the new RJ program’s relationship with the existing Kootenay RJ program?
The Kootenay Restorative Justice Society (KRJS) was formed 12 years ago and provides restorative justice and preventative bullying programs to the Slocan Valley, Salmo, Nelson and surrounding areas. They receive their referrals from RCMP as well as schools and community members.
As the Nelson Restorative Justice (NRJ) program develops, organizers would collaborate with KRJS by sharing resources and training. However, the source of Nelson referrals will be the local police department.
“The Nelson Police Board is extremely pleased with the implementation of our own restorative justice program here in Nelson. A citizen deserves an opportunity to make amends to society and to their victims. This program, which has my support, has been previously successful in removing any barriers that may exist between a first-time offender, their victims and our law enforcement personnel,” said Mayor John Dooley, Chair of the Nelson Police Board.