1. What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative Justice is a philosophy. Its guiding principles have been articulated most effectively by Howard Zehr and Harry Mika in the following way:

We are working toward restorative justice when we...

  1. Focus on the harms of crime rather than the rules that have been broken;
  2. Show equal concern and commitment to victims and offenders, involving both in the process of justice;
  3. Work toward the restoration of victims, empowering them and responding to their needs as they see them;
  4. Support offenders while encouraging them to understand, accept and carry out their obligations;
  5. Recognize that while obligations may be difficult for offenders, they should not be intended as pain;
  6. Provide opportunities for dialogue, direct or indirect, between victim and offender, as appropriate;
  7. Involve and empower the affected community through the justice process, and increase its capacity to recognize and respond to community bases of crime;
  8. Encourage collaboration and reintegration, rather than coercion and isolation;
  9. Give attention to the unintended consequences of our actions and programs; and
  10. Show respect to all parties, including victims, offenders and justice colleagues.

2. I have been referred to this program, what can I expect now?

Once you have been referred by the police or another agency, you will be contacted by phone by one of our Facilitators. They will introduce themselves and work with you to find a time that is convenient for you to meet. During this initial meeting, you are encouraged to bring a person or people to support you. Support people can be helpful in making this meeting more comfortable. During this meeting, you will be asked to talk about the incident and answer some questions. Facilitators will also explain our process and answer any questions you have in a caring and respectful way. All information shared in these meetings is completely confidential. The only reason that confidentiality would not be observed is if the Facilitators heard that someone planned to hurt themselves or someone else, or if a child (a person under 18) is being abused physically, emotionally, or sexually.

Questions you might be asked at an initial meeting:

  1. What happened?
  2. How do you feel about what happened?
  3. How were you impacted by what happened?
  4. What do you want the other people at the meeting to know about you and how you have been impacted?
  5. Who else do you think has been affected by what happened? How do you think they have been affected?
  6. What has happened since the incident?
  7. What needs to happen for you to be able to begin to move forward from this and have resolution?
  8. Do you have any questions for the other people who will be at the meeting?

3. What happens when a face-to-face encounter is not desired or appropriate?

A face-to-face meeting may not be appropriate for all situations. Here are some reasons why:

  • A face-to-face meeting cannot investigate or establish the “facts” around the incident; that is the role of the police and the courts
  • A face-to-face meeting is not intended to condemn or humiliate those who have offended others; expression of disapproval focuses on harmful actions rather than condemning the individual person
  • A face-to-face meeting focuses on learning who has been harmed, what is the impact of the incident on those harmed, and how can the harm be repaired. It is a problem-solving approach that cannot put anyone at risk of experiencing further harm

If a face-to-face meeting is not appropriate or desired, Facilitators can work with all parties to communicate indirectly through the exchange of letters. This indirect communication is meant to increase understanding and help all parties work towards a resolution that is agreeable to everyone. If this is not possible, the case will be referred back to the police or other referring agency to be processed by them.

4. Can the police refer someone who has had previous conflict with the law?

Yes. We accept cases where the accused has had previous contact with the criminal justice system. Often a new approach to dealing with conflict can be the turning point for someone where the court system is not providing a deterrent effect.

5. What happens if the person who caused the harm does not complete the process?

Our commitment is to provide a safe and supportive process for those who have caused harmed to take responsibility for their actions and attend to obligations that their actions have created. At the same time, this process is voluntary. If the person referred does not wish to complete the process at any stage, we will work with that person in the attempt to address any needs or obstacles that may exist. If, after this effort has been made, the choice of the individual is non-participation, we will refer this matter back to the police or other referral source.

6. What are the referral criteria to participate in the Restorative Response Program?

To be referred to the program, the person who caused harm must:

  1. Take responsibility for the harm caused – harm could be physical, emotional, financial
  2. Be willing to meet with our Facilitators to discuss the incident
  3. Provide contact information to the referring agency to be sent to Restorative Justice

To be referred to the program, the person harmed must:

  1. Be willing to meet with our Facilitators to discuss the incident
  2. Provide contact information to the referring agency to be sent to Restorative Justice

For a Restorative Justice process to be most meaningful, the following criteria are considered important:

  1. There are not significant differences in the facts of what happened according to the parties
  2. The parties feel safe and supported throughout the process
  3. The parties are open to exploring a community-based approach to resolving the crime or conflict

7. Why would police refer a case to a restorative justice program?

There are many reasons why an officer may wish to refer a case to a Restorative Justice program. Some of the benefits for the overall justice system include:

  • Meets the needs of crime victims and increases their sense of justice and satisfaction with the criminal justice system
  • Increases the public’s experience of justice and increases public satisfaction with the criminal justice system
  • Can decrease the time generally required to process offences in the traditional adversarial manner
  • Greatly decreases the expense of processing offences in the traditional manner by leveraging services from trained volunteers
  • Reduces incarceration costs by substituting creative alternatives for people who are not dangerous and can usefully contribute to the community and the victim
  • Reduces court dockets, caseloads, Crown counsel, defense counsel, correctional officers, and reduces the volume of police calls, making these resources more available for the cases that most need them
  • Increases the community’s understanding and ownership of the criminal justice process, as a result of victim and volunteer involvement

8. Why would a victim want to participate in a Restorative Justice program?

As many police officers and justice professionals have noted, victims of crime are not central within the formal criminal justice system - therefore, their needs are often placed second to those who cause harm. A restorative approach holds the needs of victims central in the response to crime.

The fact that victims can be involved in the justice process along with the support of Facilitators, family and friends can be very empowering for those harmed by crime. They benefit by being able to confront the offender with the real human impact of the offense and have questions answered. They are provided with an opportunity to ask for/be offered an apology as well as have input into how the restitution and restoration can occur in a way that is personal and meaningful. In addition, they can avoid the need to appear in court and have the matter resolved in a more timely way. Victims can be supported to make the decisions that make sense for them and assisted in finding closure which brings peace of mind.

Other benefits of a restorative approach for victims are:

  • Have the offender right the wrong, in whatever way is possible and valuable to the victim
  • Opportunity to confront the offender with the real human impact of the offense, express thoughts and feeling directly to the offender
  • Find out what the offender is like
  • Get answers to questions that only the offender can answer (Why did you do this to me? How did you get into my house? Were you watching me? Is there anything that I did to cause this? Is there anything I could have done to prevent this?)
  • Allay fears about the offender (Will s/he come back? What kind of person would do this? Am I in danger?)
  • Opportunity to ask for/receive an apology
  • Opportunity to be seen as a person, instead of an object or target
  • Become empowered as a primary and valued participant in the resolution of the offence
  • Help determine what restitution or other restoration the offender will provide and obtain it in a form that is personal and meaningful to the victim
  • Opportunity to have a personal impact on the crime problem by decreasing the likelihood that this offender will re-offend
  • Opportunity to feel that justice has been done
  • Obtain the closure that brings peace of mind

9. Does the Restorative Justice program provide counselling to those people involved in a case?

No. The goal of our program is to help people to help themselves. We encourage empowerment and reaching out. While we are not qualified to counsel participants, we will work with people to tap into support people in their life and other agencies in the community. We work hard to stay current, knowledgeable and connected with community resources on the North Shore including specialized services for youth, mental health and substance misuse services.