Restorative Justice offers reconciliation

The Restorative Justice program in Fort St. John is trying to increase public awareness of its far-reaching benefits.

The co-ordinator of the North Peace Justice Society gave a presentation on the program to the Peace River Regional District, Thursday.

The program deals with first time offenders of non-serious crimes, such as theft, mischief, or possession of stolen property.

Michelle LaBoucane says the organization doesn’t deal with crimes such as sexual assault or domestic assault or more serious crimes such as murder.

The program is relatively successful across the country. Approximately 85 per cent of offenders that go through the program do not re-offend, she says, adding that the numbers in the City of Fort St. John are comparable.

The program has been around the Fort St. John area in similar forms since at least 1984. It interviews both the victims and offenders and has them meet to discuss the crime, helping to give victims answers and first time offenders a second chance.

An agreement is usually reached by both parties which could include anything from the offender having to do community hours to having to write a letter of apology to the victim.

Despite the program’s success, the organization does not receive much public funding.

The program currently receives an operational grant of $25,000 from the City every year. LaBoucane is the only paid employee of the program which relies heavily on its 15 volunteers. The organization also receives a $2,500 grant from the solicitor general for training purposes.

Nonetheless, she says the program saves the City’s court system around $350,000 a year.

Many of the program’s referrals come directly from the RCMP but it also deals with civil matters, such as disputes between neighbours.

Since 2003, the organization has seen over 350 cases at a rate of roughly 50 cases a year.

She says there has also been considerable support from local businesses. Approximately 30-40 cases a year come from these businesses.

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