Funding cuts to a program that brings victims and criminals face-to-face will mainly hurt young people, a longtime program advocate says.
Jean Jacques Beauchamp of Innisfail said the restorative justice program in his town has experienced numerous positive outcomes.
The current chairman of the Alberta Restorative Justice Association, Beauchamp said in 17 years since Innisfail initiated its program some 600 cases have been completed in his town. The offenders put more than 4,200 hours of community service into the community last year alone in completing that portion of their sentence.
The provincial government will no longer fund restorative justice programs across the province, forcing individual groups to fund raise on their own which disturbs Beauchamp. A dozen programs across Alberta received grants totalling $311,000 from the province last year. In addition to Innisfail there are programs in Red Deer and Rocky Mountain House areas.
The program not only brings victims and offenders together it helps heal many youngsters and victims, Beauchamp said.
“The goal is making amends and I’ve seen it happen so often with positive outcomes for both parties,” he said.
He said a prime example was a recent letter he received from a young man who as a teenager committed some offences.
The teen went through the restorative justice program and successfully completed all the requirements imposed by the court.
That success prevented him from acquiring a criminal record.
Beauchamp said the young man’s letter thanked him and the program because it allowed him to enter and complete training to become a constable with the RCMP.
“It’s a whole different spectrum when they (victim and offender) talk to each other,” he said.
The victim in most cases, he said, gets some understanding of why the crime was committed.
He said a few years ago an offender who caused cemetery vandalism confronted a victim.
Beauchamp said at first there was much hostility and the situation was volatile.
“After we talked to them individually we got them talking and in the end the victim was offering the young person help to overcome his problems.
“It was unbelievable.”
Beauchamp said in many cases the offender is reaching out and asking for help because for whatever reason they’re not getting it from parents or otherwise.
“I’ve had many calls and letters from young kids who went through the process and they thank us for helping them.”
The Ministry of the Solicitor General and Public Security spent $351,000 a year to fund a dozen non-profit groups that run restorative justice sessions in Alberta.
Solicitor General Frank Oberle said earlier the decision was difficult but necessary in these “challenging economic times.”
Beauchamp said he has a meeting on Sept. 9 with Oberle in Edmonton.
It wasn’t clear what Alberta’s commitment to restorative justice will be following the funding cut, but Oberle’s statement also said that funding could be reinstated in the future, and that agencies can apply to the federal government or the province’s Community Initiative Program.
Beauchamp said it will be difficult for the various provincial restorative groups to raise funds.
“There are so many other programs out there like the many kid’s activities that parents don’t have time to do more.”
Beauchamp said the province is losing sight of the approach’s long-term benefits and cost-saving potential.
He said re-offending costs the system resources. He said the relatively small amount of money invested previously in the program is money well spent.
Restorative justice grant recipients handled 218 criminal cases in 2009 — each costing around $3,000 — with 88 per cent of offenders complying with conditions that were set, the Alberta Restorative Justice Association said.
Many of the restorative justice cases in Alberta involve non-violent crime, such as shoplifting, theft and mischief, such as graffiti and tire slashing.