Criminal Justice From a Restorative Perspective

The preamble to Manitoba’s new Restorative Justice Act sets the foundation for the provisions of the Act, in force today:

…WHEREAS there are circumstances when the interests of justice are served by having an offender and the victim of the unlawful conduct or other community representatives find a resolution that promotes public safety by providing healing, reparation and re-integration into the community outside the traditional criminal prosecution process;

AND WHEREAS unlawful conduct by some offenders arises out of mental health conditions, addictions or other behavioural issues and there are instances when it is more appropriate to address these issues rather than deal with these offenders through the traditional criminal prosecution process….

The principles upon which this legislation are founded are not new to those who follow criminal justice but the approach here is somewhat novel. Manitoba’s Justice Minister, Gord Macintosh, stated in today’s news release:

The entire approach to restorative justice has to begin from the perspective of the victim. To succeed in the long term, we must make offenders more accountable, and better identify and address the root causes of an offender’s criminal activity.

Starting from the perspective of the victim acknowledges their role in a process and system that has historically treated victims as something of an afterthought. Even more radically, this approach of identifying and addressing root causes of criminality acknowledges that there is a time and place “to commit sociology.”

The Act requires Manitoba Justice to set policies regarding the use of restorative justice programs (s.5(1)) and requires that those policies address how such programs are accessed by both victims and offenders (s.5(2)).

In conjunction with the coming into force of the Act, the Province announced a 5-year restorative justice strategy that includes:

  • creating a new nine-person prosecution unit to help significantly increase referrals to restorative justice programs;
  • funding new and expanded mental-health and drug courts;
  • working with north end residents for a North End Community Court;
  • supporting restorative justice programs on the Bloodvein First Nation, Portage la Prairie and Morden;
  • investing $320,000 to create restorative justice opportunities immediately in the Westman and Parkland regions, and for Métis residents of Winnipeg including $10,000 for Candace House to help create a business plan to aid in delivering victim supports;
  • establishing a restitution recovery program to help victims collect court-ordered payments;
  • creating five restorative justice hubs throughout the province to support existing programs and
    co-ordinate services;
  • improving training and building awareness;
  • enhancing supports for victims throughout the entire process; and
  • identifying supports for chronic, low-risk offenders.

These are surely positive steps and could significantly impact on not only those directly involved in these processes but also the communities in which restorative justice processes are undertaken. Diversion from traditional criminal court processes also enhances access to justice both by freeing up space on crowded dockets and by providing more satisfying outcomes, in many cases, for victims of crime. All around, this is good news.

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