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A new brand of justice

John Doe, a previous offender, breaks into a house to steal some stuff. He is caught by police and given time in jail.

John Doe, a previous offender, breaks into a house to steal some stuff. He is caught by police and given time in jail. The homeowner no longer feels safe in the neighbourhood and, when Doe is released, he is no more prepared for life in the community than when he decided to break into the house in the first place.

It is situations like these that proponents of restorative justice seek to change.

Deborah Tanasiecuk, a regional chaplain for Correctional Service of Canada, said, "Restorative justice is a non-adversarial, non-retributive approach that emphasizes healing in victims and accountability in offenders."

Although some people might view restorative justice as an instance of the offender "getting off easy," it's a misguided view, as restorative justice often takes place in conjunction with a regular sentence, and the vast majority of offenders state that they find it easier to simply serve their time rather than face their victims.

"It doesn't necessarily negate the initial experience or the crime that was committed," explained Tanasiecuk, "but there is a recognition of what has happened, of the pain that has been caused."

Examples of restorative justice include victim-offender mediation services, where victims or representatives of the victims meet with the offender, conflict resolution, healing circles, community conferencing and circles of support and accountability.

Circles of support and accountability was developed for warrant expiry sex offenders, and involves having a network of community members who meet with the offender regularly to provide support and assistance in meeting the conditions of release. After seeing reduced recidivism (re-offending), the program was expanded to serve other offenders.

"Having a healthy social network helps people to not reoffend," said Tanasiecuk, adding, "when you isolate yourself and choose not to be accountable, we all tend to do stupid things."

Tanasiecuk explained many criminals lack positive role models or social circles. If, perhaps, the terms of release for an offender involve not consuming alcoholic beverages, it may be difficult to adhere to if all the offender's friends are regular drinkers.

Although restorative justice is a fairly modern term, the practice of employing alternative and effective methods of punishing criminals, deterring future crimes and compensating victims, has been seen through the ages in a variety of cultures and societies.

Tanasiecuk said in the last three decades there has been more emphasis placed on exploring emerging trends in restorative justice, through such areas as chaplaincy and aboriginal initiatives.

In 1996, Correctional Service of Canada established a restorative justice branch and also celebrated Canada's first Restorative Justice Week.

Restorative Justice Week is celebrated in Canada, as well as several countries worldwide, on the third week of November, which this year will be Nov. 14 to 21.

This year, the annual national restorative justice symposium will be hosted in Regina Nov. 14 to 16.

The Town of Battleford joined the movement by declaring Restorative Justice Week during a regular town council meeting.

Councillor Cameron Duncan said having offenders involved in repairing damage they've done to individuals would be beneficial to the community.

He said restorative justice is a good concept, adding, "It instils some respect and hopefully some respect down the road."

Correctional Service of Canada suggests communities who declare Restorative Justice Week could host a town hall meeting, promote open dialogue concerning the effects of crime, such as loss of a sense of safety, plan activities and invite a guest speaker who is involved in restorative justice.

Duncan said he hoped town council would be able to arrange for a guest speaker to more fully explain the principles behind restorative justice, as well as some of the initiatives being undertaken by the restorative justice branch.

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