Restorative Justice Puts Focus on Victims

By DeGurse, Carl | Winnipeg Free Press, March 16, 2018 | Go to article overview

Restorative Justice Puts Focus on Victims


DeGurse, Carl, Winnipeg Free Press


When a homeowner awakes to find a thief broke into their house while the family slept, it’s a shock, but it’s not unusual.

Statistics Canada says Manitobans report more than 9,000 break-ins a year.

Such a crime can transform a family into victims. The thief steals household items, but he also steals the family’s sense they are safe.

Fear now infects the home. The adults might lay awake listening for suspicious sounds. The kids might fret when they go to bed, asking if the “bad man” will again come in the night.

If they’re human like the rest of us, the victims might initially desire revenge. They want the thief to suffer for the damage done.

It’s likely the least of the victims’ concerns is that the Manitoba government wants more crimes resolved through restorative justice. But it’s an alternative the victims should consider, for their own well-being.

Restorative justice has officially existed in Manitoba in different forms since the 1990s, but it got renewed attention on March 9 when the Manitoba government reclaimed it as a way of sending fewer people into Manitoba jails that are already overcrowded.

“We have the highest incarceration rates in Canada,” Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said as she unveiled the government’s new justice strategy. “So, we’re taking a different approach. We’re taking a proactive approach.”

Unfortunately, Stefanson’s enthusiasm for alternatives to jail-’em-all justice was not immediately supported by new and directed government funding.

Families shaken by a house break-in likely don’t care that restorative justice can benefit the community and benefit the offender. They may even hope the offender rots in jail.

But what might interest victims is learning how restorative justice can help them personally deal with the ugly aftermath of crime.

Cultures around the world use variations of restorative justice, and find that victims often endorse it more than the courtroom legal process.

“Significantly more (victims) who actually experienced a restorative justice conference were satisfied, compared with those whose cases were dealt with in court, 70 per cent vs 42 per cent,” says the study Restorative Justice: The Evidence, by the Smith Institute, an independent think tank in the United Kingdom.

Victims are often dismayed to find the traditional court system is designed to try to sentence offenders — not designed to meet the needs of victims. …

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