Some of the money siphoned off the criminal world is being directed towards at-risk youth in a bid to keep them out of that world.
Touchstone Family Association, a Richmond-based social service agency, is receiving $40K funding from the BC Civil Forfeiture Grant Program for its StreetSmarts Mentorship Project that targets youth who may be vulnerable to re-offending after participating in a restorative justice process.
Carol Hardie, program director of the Reset Youth Team at Touchstone told the Richmond News that the Civil Forfeiture Fund they received will be used to complement restorative justice forums by providing mentorship and supervision for youth offenders who are a part of that process as a follow-up.
“Throughout the restorative justice process, we may learn that maybe something is off balance at home, and this is the reason the child has come into the criminal realm,” said Hardie. “That's really what prompted us, historically, to recognize that mentorship and follow-up would be important for the young offender.”
“Being able to bring interventions into a family instead of treating the young person like the problem that needs to be fixed is a very different ideology,” said Hardie.
StreetSmarts will wrap support around young offenders in the hope that they don't have to come through any sort of criminal sanctions or a restorative justice process again. The support includes helping them meet the resolution agreements, getting them connected to community resources, such as social activities, and helping them around employment.
“It’s a very holistic sort of approach,” said Hardie. “It's a bit of intervention, a bit of prevention, and a bit of follow-up.”
Restorative Justice: A humanized means to achieve accountability and repair harm
Restorative justice is an alternative approach to the traditional justice system. During the process, the victim, the offender and stakeholders in the community are brought together for a facilitated dialogue to discuss the effects of the crime.
They will then work through consensus to come up with a formalized resolution that meets the needs of the victims and stakeholders while holding the offender accountable for their actions. Touchstone’s program will supervise that agreement until it's completed and send off a final report to the police indicating whether the agreement has been complied with.
“This is a victim-centered approach,” said Haroon Bajwa, program coordinator of the Richmond Restorative Justice Program. “It means from the very beginning we're meeting with victims (in a preliminary meeting) to figure out what does the victim need and what kind of process would work for them, so it's customized to their needs, to help them feel safe and comfortable.”
And for the offenders, it's about taking responsibility for what they’ve done and being intentional to repair the harm.
“This process of restorative justice humanizes everyone inside of it,” said Bajwa.
Bajwa thinks the traditional justice system, in comparison, is more about punishment and finding out whether somebody is innocent or guilty.
“In the (traditional) process, both victim and offender are alienated from the process. What ends up happening is professionals take over the process - it becomes a win-or-lose thing,” said Bajwa.
The victims, Bajwa said, are only one component of that process and they won’t get answers that might be really helpful for them to heal. The offenders, on the other side, are basically hiring a lawyer to avoid punishment instead of having to be accountable to the victim directly.
According to a report by Solicitor General Canada, restorative justice programs can have an impact on offender recidivism that ranges from a two to eight per cent reduction. The report suggests considering restorative justice approaches in the development of criminal justice policies.
“The person who's done the harm is now seeing in front of them the very person that they've hurt, and they're hearing what pain that they have caused that person. So, when you become that intimate in it, and you engage people at a human level, I think that plays a tremendous role in whether or not they go out and commit crime again,” said Bajwa.
For the police, the restorative justice program is a timely and effective resolution for a criminal incident, allowing officers to return to their duty more expediently, said a restorative justice coordinator in Richmond RCMP.
However, according to RCMP, there are certain types of crimes where a power differential exists and restorative justice is not suitable, for example, sexual crimes or domestic abuse. In cases where certain types of mental health conditions exist, restorative justice is also not suitable.
Since the COVID pandemic, Touchstone Family Association said it has been challenged to meet increased demand for youth and family services and the Civil Forfeiture Fund will help them provide that.
StreetSmarts is among the 121 projects that are receiving a total of $4.3 million in one-time grants through the Civil Forfeiture Crime Prevention and Remediation Grant program .