Jeff Green | Feb 10, 2005
Feture artcle, February 17, 2005
Feature article February 17, 2005LAND O' LAKES NewsWeb Home
Community Justice Program coming to Central, North Frontenac.
by Jeff Green
After a tragic fire in December of 1997 that led to two deaths, concerned citizens (youth workers, police officers, business people, parents) came together to see if a service could be developed for the community that would heal the harm that was caused by the crime.
Eventually this initiative led to the development of Community Justice Forums in Lanark County as a whole, and the Lanark County Community Justice Program was established.
The volunteer-based program accepts pre-charge referrals from the Lanark County OPP, mostly for youth crimes. When a case is referred, a procedure is in place to determine if it is a likely candidate for restorative justice through a community forum.
Our program differs from some other court diversion programs in that we require the involvement of the victim before we take on a case. If the victim does not want to sit down with the perpetrator, we dont get involved, said Marion Taylor, the program coordinator for Lanark County Community Justice Program.
The philosophical underpinnings of the program borrow from the work of Rupert Ross, a Kenora-based Crown Attorney who made a study of Aboriginal approaches to justice and has written extensively on the subject.
The program works closely with the Lanark County OPP, and since police service out of the Sharbot Lake Detachment is clustered with Lanark County, they have decided to bring the service to Central and North Frontenac.
Last week, Marion Taylor made a presentation to a group of interested parties and OPP officers in Sharbot Lake. She discussed the differences between restorative justice programs and the criminal court system.
While the criminal court system focuses on guilt, restorative justice focuses on repairing harm; offenders are passive and subject to punishment in the court system, while they are expected to take responsibility and to work towards an understanding of what theyve done in restorative justice. Ultimately, the court system is focussed on the past whereas restorative justice is focussed on the future, Marion Taylor told the audience.
She described Community Justice Forums as structured events, with a seating plan, a script and a set of ground rules. Facilitators talk to the accused and the victim separately at first, and then a circle is formed. All individuals involved are given an opportunity to speak, including the police members who are involved.
Often, for the accused, its the first time they are forced to face up to the consequences of their activity, said Marion Taylor.
Once the forum is underway it carries on until everything that needs to be said has been said, and the process is moved forward towards an agreement, which everyone in the room has to sign for it to come into effect.
Over 50 forums have been held by the Lanark County Community Justice Program over the past seven years. We havent held a forum yet that hasnt led to an agreement, Marion Taylor said.
Restorative Justice is not easy for the perpetrators of crime, according to MarionTaylor. I wouldnt want to face up to one of our forums if I had committed a crime, said Marion Taylor.
Once an agreement is signed, it is legally biding on the accused. If the accused fails to comply with the terms of the agreement, the case may be referred back to the police or the Crown.
The Lanark County Community Justice Program is seeking a number of community volunteers to act as facilitators, and that was one of the reasons for the information meeting in Sharbot Lake.
In order to prepare volunteers well for the kind of facilitation work that restorative justice forums entail, the Lanark Community Justice Program will be holding a two-day training session in Perth on March 18th and 19th. Anyone interested should call 264-1558.
You neednt worry that youll be thrown into situations that you cant handle, Marion Taylor told the people assembled in Sharbot Lake. We always have volunteers observe at forums, before taking on more central roles.
There are currently 32 volunteers with the program, and about 10 of them are long-term experienced facilitators. They take on cases throughout the County.