September 23, 2014 - 5:03 AM
VERNON - Sitting down at a table with someone who committed a crime against you, getting answers about why they did it, and talking about what can be done to repair the harm isn’t the conventional ending in the justice system.
It’s called restorative justice, and has helped people on both sides of the equation move on in a positive direction.
Margaret Clark, the executive director for the Restorative Justice Society of the North Okanagan, says the organization received 16 referrals so far this year. Combined, those cases involved 91 people — victims, offenders and their guardians, and supporters.
The program isn’t for everyone; the person who caused the harm has to admit what they’ve done to qualify.
“It’s the handful who are willing to admit and willing to face the people they’ve harmed,” Clark says.
“The persons harmed often get answers to questions most victims of crime never get answers to, like the ‘why me?’ and ‘how does this happen?’ (and) ‘what were you thinking at the time this happened?’”
Roughly two thirds of the participants are under 18 and the rest are adults. A report showed 72 per cent of individuals did not reoffend over a three year study period. Facilitators encounter a wide range of offenses from vandalism to assaults. RCMP spokesperson Gord Molendyk says two boys reprimanded for tagging came to the detachment and apologized to the officers as part of the program.
“It was quite neat,” Molendyk says. “You could see the end result of it.”
The agency handles between 20-30 files a year with an operating budget of around $80,000. Some funding for the program comes from the Ministry of Justice — about ten per cent a year — and some from local municipalities.
“The rest of it we have to fundraise,” Clark says.
Last year, the society launched its inaugural fundraiser: The Creative Justice Gala. Held at the Best Western Vernon Lodge, the event raised close to $4,000 last year.
Part of this year’s event involves local artists creating original works on site to be auctioned off that evening. Dinner and live music are included in the $40 ticket, available in advance at the Community Policing Office on 32 Avenue. Call 250-550-7846 for more information about tickets. The gala will be held Friday, Oct. 3.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014