Because the criminal justice system cannot always respond to crime efficiently and effectively, the Williams Lake community has initiated a restorative justice process known as Community Justice Forum Conferencing.
Community Justice Forums were initiated by the RCMP. They are based on Family Group Conferencing which originated with the Maori people in New Zealand. The success of the program caught the interest of Canadians. Williams Lake is the third community in British Columbia to adopt this form of alternative justice.
The Goals of Family Group conferencing
The goals of a Community Justice Forum Conference are to repair harm and to maximize justice. The first involvement with a person accused of a crime is usually with the RCMP. In certain matters restorative justice conferencing is recommended by the RCMP. Referrals also come from Crown Counsel. If such action is recommended and approved, a formal conference is implemented outside the traditional court system . Obviously, some types of offenses and offenders cannot be suitably dealt with outside the traditional court system.
Upon recommendation by the RCMP or Crown, all parties concerned are brought together as soon as possible to attempt to define an appropriate response. After preliminary meetings, if the conferencing facilitator feels a circle would be beneficial, the following individuals are invited to be part of the process
- the offender
- the offender's family and/or supporters
- the victim
- the victim's family and/or supporters
- a facilitator and co-facilitator
- the RCMP
- other persons affected by the offender's behavior
Where does this occur?
Formal notification is given to all parties, and a conference is arranged in a neutral and private setting. A conferencing circle is scheduled at the earliest possible time.
At the resolution conference, the offender has the opportunity to explain the motivation for the offense to the victim.
The victim has an opportunity to hear the offender’s motivations for the wrongful behavior and to tell the offender how he or she was affected.
A sincere apology is an important part of the process and goes a long way to making things right for all participants.
The outcome is up to the discretion of the conference participants and may include
- compensation to the victim
- consequences for the offender
- a commitment by the offender to work at a behavior change for a specified period of time
All dispositions must be agreed upon by the parties in attendance at the resolution conference. Monitoring occurs to ensure that the terms of the disposition agreement are carried out. Upon completion of the sanctions, the case will be reviewed; the offender's compliance with the disposition is reported to all involved participants.
Conferencing is an opportunity for the offender to avoid criminal proceedings and resolves any harm that has been done by the offender's wrongful actions. It gives the victim an opportunity to understand the offender’s motives for the wrong doing, receive an apology, and suggest ways to make up for the wrong doing. Many victims feel the process helps them get on with their lives.
What is the Community Council for Restorative Justice?
The Council is a community organization which oversees and guides the development of an alternative justice program that is restorative rather than punitive. The group consists of community volunteers who believe in the restorative process as a response to much of the crime in the community. Facilitators are trained in the Community Justice Forum theory and process. The group meets monthly.
What offences are eligible for Community Justice Forums?
Most offences are eligible for referral to a Community Justice Forum. Eligibility is not limited by the value of property involved, nor by the record of a person's prior convictions. Examples include theft, auto theft, vandalism, assault, neighbourhood disputes, shoplifting, threats, and minor drug charges.
Which offenders are referred to Community Justice Forums?
Adults or youth may be referred. If a conference is likely to have a positive effect for those involved, conferencing may be used. Any offender who admits to an offense and agrees to participate in a conference may be recommended by an investigating officer or Crown.
What about privacy?
Conferencing is a confidential process between the facilitator and the participants. The process and outcome of a conference is tracked and recorded by the Council and the RCMP or Crown.
Who facilitates the circles?
Presently the Williams Lake team is very active in handling RCMP and Crown Counsel referred cases. The group is often looking for facilitators. When sufficient interest is shown, training sessions are offered by highly qualified trainers. The training is a three day commitment. If you would like to learn more about becoming a facilitator, please contact the Williams Lake Community Safety Coordinator - 250 392-8701.
Presently the Williams Lake team is very active and handling a number of RCMP and Crown Counsel referred cases. Our team is often looking for facilitators. As a rule, we have spring and fall training sessions that are put on by our very highly qualified trainers.
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