A selection of initiatives that attempt to repair harm from crime, attend to related needs and avoid or significantly reduce the use of custody
This section describes thirteen initiatives we found that most fully provide to varying degrees the fundamental elements of "satisfying justice". They are mindful of community safety issues. They attempt to repair harm from crime. They attend to other surrounding needs related to the offence and they attempt to accomplish these objectives while avoiding or significantly reducing the use of imprisonment in serious cases where a prison sentence would otherwise have been expected.
As stated earlier, they do not all reflect the full array of elements to the same degree. Some bring all these basic principles to an integrated program approach that is offered to the whole community. Others implement some key features of a satisfying process particularly well, and are working hand in hand with the justice system, at different points, to make this available for cases of increasing seriousness. Some represent the application of an accepted alternative to a case that would have been routinely excluded from consideration due to its seriousness. The results are remarkable and raise the question: why not more often? And finally, some are spontaneous initiatives that have emerged when community members have felt moved to bring about the most just outcome possible for people for whom they cared deeply. When people are moved by particular circumstances, they often discover that no "permission" is needed to get involved and nothing is really preventing them from taking action for what they believe. Such actions arising out of a community can be among the most effective as they can be creatively tailored to fit all the circumstances: each problematic situation is unique and the reaction to it must be unique, in due consideration of all the people affected and the myriad of possibilities that can open themselves to build solutions, when people are willing to give the time to working it out together.
In this first section, we have tried to present to you stories that powerfully illustrate some of the most innovative initiatives reported to us that stand to have an impact on providing victims and communities with more satisfying justice. But we have also tried to reflect the broad range of efforts being made to practise principles of satisfying justice, no matter where in the process people find themselves when they are called upon to respond. It is for this reason that we have also included here two initiatives that take place in prisons as well as one that illustrates what can happen between a community and a high risk offender even after a prison sentence is over and done with: they represent a sound healing and prevention effort to avoid further incarceration in the future.
Community Service Orders - Adults the Windsor Case of Kevin Hollinsky
One July night in 1994, Kevin Hollinsky and four friends had a boys' night out at a downtown Windsor bar. Several hours later, Kevin got behind the wheel of his 1985 Firebird.
On the way home, he and his buddies were trying to get the attention of a carful of girls. Kevin was driving too fast when he lost control on a bad curve. Joe Camlis, Kevin's best friend since the age of four, and his other close friend, Andrew Thompson, were both killed. Kevin was not physically hurt. The two others were injured. Kevin pleaded guilty to two counts of dangerous driving causing death. For reasons of general deterrence, the crown asked for a jail term of between eight and 14 months to serve as a lesson for other young drivers. In the words of a community police officer who worked on the case: "we knew that we had been telling audiences a very clear message - 'You drink and drive and kill someone. You are going to jail'." The appeal courts have said that a prison term is an appropriate sentence in almost every traffic death where there is serious negligence.
But Kevin did not go to jail, both because of an extraordinary intervention from the parents of the two dead boys and because of a courageous and innovative court judge who took a risk with an alternative community sentence. What happened that day in the justice system of Windsor is best expressed in the words of Dale Thompson, Andrew's father. He made the following submission to the court.
"Since society demands exacting a price for Kevin's mistake, I'd like to think that price, rather than incarceration, could be a much more constructive motion... We have been in contact with the Windsor Police Department about arranging a program in conjunction with area schools. The program would consist of Kevin, along with what is left of his car, attending at schools and speaking with the students about the events of that tragic evening. Both families have already offered to assist the Hollinskys and Kevin in his attempt to reiterate to young drivers the importance of responsible driving. I know Andrew would want it this way, I surely do."
Kevin Hollinsky received a sentence of 750 community service hours and has spoken to more than 8,300 students in an extraordinary program that includes strong messages from the police, Kevin, Mr. Thompson and another friend who was in the car.
[end of story]
High school audiences are profoundly moved by the presentation which grew out of Hollinsky's community service order. For the first time in years last summer, Windsor and Essex County had a summer without a high school student being involved in a fatal or a serious automobile collision. After hearing the presentation, one Windsor high school principal told the police he was confident it would save lives in the future. "In my 30 years in education I have never seen a presentation that has made such a dynamic impact on students as this one."
Lloyd Grahame, a recently retired Windsor police staff sergeant in charge of community police, was initially unhappy about Kevin not going to prison. "I've got to say now that he makes the case for alternative sentencing.... Nobody will ever convince me now that sending him to jail was the best thing to do. You could send him to jail for five years and you wouldn't have punished him like you punished him by doing what happened here.
This man was forced to live with the consequences of his irresponsibility, day after day after day. Every day he went out to speak he relived it. He touched many, many young people in this city in a way we could not. It's hard to reach teenagers. He did. Kevin showed them they are not invulnerable."
The non-custodial sentence was appealed by the Crown, partly we suspect because it so challenged the current mindset of the justice system. In November 1995, three appeal court judges deliberated a half hour to confirm the original sentence. "Judge Nosanchuk's decision not to send Mr. Hollinsky to prison was an absolutely brave thing and a wonderful judgment," said Edward Greenspan, the lawyer who represented Hollinsky on the appeal. "They stood up in the courtroom and applauded. The parents of the dead boys stood up and applauded and everybody began hugging each other, including Kevin."
Mrs. Camlis, one of the victims' mom, agrees. She has been to several of Hollinksy's school presentations. "It was not an easy thing for Kevin to do. He relived it every time he talked about it. I think his two friends can be very proud of what he has done for them with his life since the accident. He's said to me many times, 'I did it for them. It's the only way I can say to them that I am sorry'."
There is overwhelming evidence that the sentence is not only serious but far more meaningful, effective and less costly to taxpayers than a jail sentence. Given the clamour for stiffer jail penalties, it is ironic that in many respects Kevin's sentence is much tougher than jail. Kevin suffered survivor guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome. Many times, he has faced the consequences of his actions and taken responsibility for them. As one of the appeal court judges asked, "How is the principle of general deterrence better served than speaking to 8,200 students about the tragedy of drinking and driving?"
In many cases, victims and offenders are not acquainted or at least not as close as Kevin was to his friends. That has some people dismissing the case as "exceptional" and therefore irrelevant to most other cases. However, while victims and offenders are often not friends, and are not expected to become friends, the current adversarial system strives to keep them apart in ways which undermine such constructive sentences as Hollinsky's. Other restorative justice practices such as mediation, sentencing circles and family group conferences can humanize the judicial process, fostering similar meaningful sentences.
There are many people like Kevin who have committed serious crimes where a custodial sentence is not necessary, and indeed might be ineffective, not only for the individual but for addressing the real needs of the community. Creative alternative sentences are certainly appropriate for less serious crimes which make up the majority of crime. Where community safety is addressed, these sentences seem appropriate for more serious crimes too.
Church Council on Justice and Corrections
507 Bank St.
Tel. (613) 563-1688
Fax (613) 237-6129
"... a term of imprisonment (in this case) is not necessary in order to achieve the objective of general deterrence. The arrest of the accused, his public prosecution in court, the fact that he now has a record of conviction for two serious offences under the Criminal Code of Canada, the fact that he will lose his licence to drive a motor vehicle for an extended period of time, the fact that as an alternative to imprisonment he will be performing worthwhile and extensive community service, personally attending as required to repeatedly send a message of public education to other young persons, serves the need for general deterrence in this community in relation to the offences before the Court."
Judge Nosanchuk, sentencing Kevin Hollinsky
Restorative Resolutions, Winnipeg Manitoba
The project is founded on the premise that social responsibility and accountability are fostered in the community. The aim of Restorative Resolutions is to provide selected offenders the opportunity to re-establish trust and acceptance with the individuals and community they have harmed. At the same time, it seeks to empower the community to respond in an appropriate and accountable fashion to individuals with whom they have become estranged.
A 32-year-old man with a lengthy youth and adult record relating to assault and break and enter is charged with four new counts of break, enter and theft. The crown attorney wants a period of incarceration. Restorative Resolutions, a community-based sentencing project, prepared an alternative plan recommending: suspended sentence, with supervision to be carried out by Restorative Resolutions; complete Interpersonal Communication Skills Course; complete Addictions Foundation of Manitoba assessment and attend AA regularly; complete conditions as outlined in the mediation agreement; receive literacy training.
This plan was accepted by the judge.
Restorative Resolutions does the preparation (after a guilty plea) of individual case plans which are presented to the judge at the time of sentencing. These plans propose a community-based sentence in cases that would otherwise most likely receive a prison term in the order of a minimum of nine months.
This innovative feature reduces the likelihood of the project being just another alternative which does not in fact reduce the incarceration rate. The criterion of dealing only with offences which would result in a minimum nine-month sentence is intended to reduce net widening and will be determined through consultation with the Crown's office. (Net widening occurs when alternatives are used without reducing the amount of incarceration also used. See Conclusion for an analysis of how this happens.)
Each plan will include some form of victim input. Post plea mediation agreements or victim impact statements form an important part of this project's reports placed before the sentencing court. Restorative Resolutions believes that crime results in injuries to victims and the community and solutions to crime must deal with the needs of victims and the community.
A community-based plan will include a detailed social and criminal history of the offender and indicate what actions have been taken and will be taken to meet the needs of the client. The plan will propose a specific recommendation to the sentencing judge which will enable the offender to accept responsibility for the offending behaviour in the community. In a few cases, a judge added a custodial sentence, albeit a reduced term.
Restorative Resolutions, a project of the John Howard Society of Manitoba, is responsible for supervising all community-based plans. It seeks to empower the community to become more involved in the criminal justice process, including through a strong volunteer base for the project in the community. Volunteers are involved in outreach, supervising clients and participating on a community resource board. Restorative Resolutions will accept referrals from Community and Youth Corrections, the Crown, the Judiciary, Community Agencies, and Self Referrals. Restorative Resolutions will consider property related offenses and crimes of a personal nature but not sexual assault, family violence, or drug related offences.
An evaluation report has noted that 80 per cent of the Manitoba government corrections' budget is spent on institutions while only 18 per cent supports community programs. The report concludes that at a time of dwindling public resources, any additional funds for community programs will occur only if there is a reallocation of spending away from those institutional budgets.
"In Manitoba, as in other jurisdictions, it is generally recognized that many people continue to be incarcerated when responsible and creative community-based alternatives can be made available to the Courts."
Restorative Resolutions project summary.
583 Ellice Avenue
Tel. (204) 775-1514
Fax (204) 775-1670
A similar program is run by John Howard Society of Brandon.
John Howard Society of Brandon
220 - 8th Street
Tel. (204) 727-1696
Fax (204) 728-4344
Kwanlin Dun Community Justice - Circle Sentencing Yukon Territory
This story is about a man whose case was referred to a sentencing circle. He received a community sentence rather than three years in prison for several driving and theft offences.
John Doe, 42, was charged with several driving offences, possession of stolen property and various petty offences. Partly because of his lengthy record and many prior related offences, the Crown office wanted a sentence of three years.
John heard about circle sentencing while he was in jail awaiting trial and thought that this might help him quit drinking.
John made an application to Kwanlin Dun Community Justice Program by answering some questions - what kind of steps he has made to become sober, steps he would like to make to continue his sobriety and healing, and how the community can help him do this. It was hard for him to fill the questionnaire properly because he wasn't quite sure what he needed or wanted.
All he knew was he was tired of living in pain and wanted to start living for himself and his two children. He hardly knew his kids because he was always drinking and never there for them. He had tried to quit drinking several times over the last two years but it never lasted long.
He started drinking at 14 and alcohol started to get out of hand when he was allowed in bars. His drinking and criminal behaviour steadily increased over the years which led to his incarceration in correctional institutions for about 10 years. Drinking and jail were a good way to never have to deal with life's reality and pain. He no longer felt a part of his community and didn't know how others felt about him.
When he told his mom that he planned to apply to go to circle sentencing (which she was already involved in), she was very excited and went to many meetings with him.
At the first meeting, there was discussion about what kind of assistance John needed. He agreed to take residential treatment, try hard to stay sober and keep busy with community work service. It was at this time he realized how many people from his family and the community were willing to support him. He attended meetings quite regularly after this and at these meetings he talked about how and what he was doing and what help he needed in his healing.
Once his criminal charges went to circle he had many people in the community supporting him, including his family and friends. Most of the people in the circle spoke about John and how they knew him, what they knew about him, good and bad. Everyone that spoke brought a new perspective to who John really was and what his family and peers knew John was capable of.
At the end of the circle, with the community behind him, the circle asked the court if it would give John another chance. The circle believed, after they heard John speak of how he so desperately wanted to change, that John could do exactly what he said he would do.
John was given a three-year suspended sentence with a very lengthy probationary period. He also was ordered to do 200 community service hours, take alcohol assessment, counselling and treatment, lifeskills training, upgrade his education and abide by a curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.
John has been completely sober for three years. He has been employed with his community in the Justice program as a Justice Community Support Worker. He sits as a member of the Community Justice Committee and is a well respected member of his community.
John says the circle gave him the opportunity to change and to help him understand and live a good healthy lifestyle. What he has learned throughout his life and experience through the circle is what he shares today with people he helps in his community. The volunteer work made him get to know his own people, required him to help these people that in the past he may have indirectly hurt and assist his community as a whole.
The Kwanlin Dun Community Justice pamphlet provides the following further information about the circle sentencing process.
Circle Sentencing - Its Beginnings
In January of 1992, Kwanlin Dun became more involved with community justice issues. Due to a large number of Kwanlin Dun First Nation cases entering the formal justice system, it had become increasingly evident that many Band members were re-committing offences with little or no community support in place for either offenders or victims. In response, the Kwanlin Dun First Nation leadership began a consultation process with justice officials to examine alternatives to the formal justice system. The community felt it would be important to implement alternatives that would focus on healing and wellness, and the motivation of the offender to become a healthy member of the community. These alternatives must deal with the problems and not just the symptoms, with the desired outcome of a healthier community and a reduction in Band members in trouble with the law.
The first Kwanlin Dun Territorial Circle Court was held in the Kwanlin Dun Village on March 31, 1992. Court proceedings were held in a circle setting (consisting of judge, crown, defence counsel, court worker, probation worker, alcohol and drug worker, crime prevention coordinator, family members, elders, and community members at large). In one year, between March 31, 1992 and March 31, 1993, there were eleven scheduled and four special Kwanlin Dun Circle Courts. The frequency of community based Sentencing Circles has increased to accommodate the court dockets. More recently, to address the amount of time needed to process each case and the growing number of community requests for cases to be heard in the circle, Territorial Court Sentencing Circles are normally scheduled bi-weekly.
"To fit the sentence to the circumstances not only of the offence and offender, but also to the needs of the victim and the community, and do so within available time and resources requires significant information and time. The temptation to impose standard sentences must be overcome for the sentencing process to avoid squandering scarce resources, and to be used to its full potential in achieving its objectives."
Judge Barry Stuart, Yukon Terrirories
Kwanlin Dun Circle Court
Circle proceedings are conducted in the Kwanlin Dun First Nations Potlatch House and all community members are encouraged to attend and participate. Chairs are arranged in a circle, and the judge, removed of formal gown, is seated in the circle along with defence and crown counsel, the offender, the victim, formal and community-based justice representatives, and community members.
The Keeper of the Circle welcomes participants and explains the purpose and guidelines of the Circle (Keepers of the Circle act as hosts and facilitators of the circle process, appointed by the Community Justice Committee). All participants are introduced and then the charges are read, followed by crown and defence counsel giving opening submissions. The Keeper of the Circle then invites community members to speak. This includes submissions from the victim or someone speaking on behalf of the victim. Elders provide knowledge and support within the circle. Honesty is a very important factor in the Circle. It is essential that the positive and the negative (reality) are discussed so that the needs of the victim and offender can be met and solutions to the underlying conditions of the criminal behaviour are addressed. It is understood that the decisions that are made in the circle will affect the community as a whole.
After everyone has had an opportunity to speak, the keeper of the Circle, Justice of the Peace or the Judge will address the circle to determine if a consensus has been reached about a sentencing plan. Once the circle process is completed, the sentence plan will be imposed. However, if the offender has not followed through on their action plan and/or met with the Justice Steering Committee, the Circle may send the case downtown to the formal justice system for sentencing or the judge may sentence the offender in the Circle, taking their lack of motivation into consideration.
....There is continued contact with the victim (and the justice committee). This may be to advise them of the outcome of court, and/or continued resources. There is ongoing supervision of the offenders to assist them in meeting the conditions of their probation and or to assist them with the continuation of their healing plan. A failure to abide by the sentencing plan may cause a review in the circle, and in some cases may involve a breach and sentencing by the court.
N. B. For emerging cautions concerning this approach, see Section Two.
Rosemary Couch or Rose Wilson
Kwanlin Dun Community Justice
Tel. (403) 667-4803
Fax (403) 668-5057
Mediation Services, Winnipeg Manitoba
This case was referred to Mediation Services in Winnipeg, Manitoba by the Public Prosecutions Department and concerns the stabbing of a 17-year-old high school student and subsequent charges including attempted murder and aggravated assault.
The young people involved were at a party. Most of the persons had been drinking heavily. An argument broke out between several people. When the victim left the party, the accused persons followed him. The victim, Stan, was beaten, and then stabbed several times with a knife. Stan, who was very traumatized by the incident, is a quite articulate 17-year-old attending school and working part time.
The accused included the following: Terry, a 14-year-old, charged with attempted murder and possessing a weapon dangerous to the public peace; he is in a dating relationship with the victim's sister. Kelly, a 13-year-old, charged with common assault. Larry, a 14-year-old male, charged with attempted murder; Debbie, a 19-year-old female, charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, and possessing a weapon dangerous to the public peace. She is the single parent of a two-year-old daughter.
Initially, only Terry's charges were referred by the Crown Attorney. Stan, along with his mother, agreed to meet in a mediation session with Terry. Stan indicated that he had many unanswered questions about what had happened.
Terry and his mother agreed to participate in this meeting. However, Terry arrived alone for the meeting indicating that his mother had decided not to attend.
In this initial meeting, Stan indicated that he wanted all of the persons involved present so that the unclear details could be unravelled. Because everyone had been drinking heavily, many of the details seemed fuzzy.... The need for accountability of the persons responsible for hurting him was very important to him. Terry, while being quite noncommittal about his role, agreed to come to a second meeting.
Getting that second meeting together was a challenge. The Crown Attorney was somewhat reluctant to refer Debbie (the adult) to the program because of the severity of her charge. Because the victim requested a mediation with her, the Crown agreed to the referral, indicating that a stay of proceedings would not be entered.
... Debbie was an extremely shy, withdrawn woman who had very limited skills in expressing herself. At times, it was questionable whether she understood the process.
The other youths agreed to participate in the meeting. Their parents were encouraged to be part of the process; however, they did not attend the meeting.
On the evening of the meeting, the two mediators were wondering if everyone would show up. The lives of these youths were very unstable, with little support from their families. The chairs were arranged in an elongated circle, with the mediators at one end. The three charged youths arrived without their parents; the 19-year-old came with her two-year-old child. The victim also came alone.
Stan began. He related events....
He had been at a party. After some quarrelling, a fight broke out. Everyone started beating up on him. He tried to run away but he was chased down the street and grabbed by several persons. Events after this were rather blurred. He remembered running home and noticing blood running down his shirt. He could not get into his house and he collapsed on the porch. His girlfriend discovered him in the early hours of the morning.... He had lost a considerable amount of blood by this time, and was in critical condition. He had been stabbed four times. He required 16 sutures, as well as a drain tube in his right arm.
Shortly after this incident, his girlfriend left him. He lost his summer job because he was unable to work for several weeks. In addition, he had received threats from the accused's friends. They were blaming him for the court proceedings and were wanting to "get him".
Storytelling for the others was difficult. One major problem was an accurate re-telling. Alcohol had been a major influence in the incident. For some, it was difficult to tell whether it was convenient to "not remember" or whether they genuinely could not relate all of the details because they were intoxicated.
Kelly had a very difficult time speaking. He asked to speak to Stan alone. He expressed extreme regret for his involvement. Because he had been present only for part of the event, he genuinely was unsure as to what had transpired. He indicated that he wanted to do whatever he could to resolve things with Stan.
Larry remembered more of the details. He recalled that Stan had got into an argument with a female at the party, and had been pushing her. Several people had seen this and had wanted to intervene. They began beating him. When Stan left the party, they followed him. They grabbed him as he was jumping over a fence. Terry had a knife and stabbed him. Debbie then took the knife and stabbed him three more times. Larry indicated that he had been an observer but he was willing to take responsibility for his involvement in any way possible.
Terry was very quiet. He basically went along with what the others repeated. He did not verbally express his feelings and did not show remorse for his involvement.
Debbie had an extremely difficult time expressing herself. She met alone with Stan twice during the evening. She cried through most of the meeting, keeping her head down. Her communication was limited. At one point, she said she was very sorry about what had occurred. It was a breakthrough in the meeting with Stan. He accepted her regret, and both felt relieved that they could express these feelings. This was particularly important because Debbie's friends had been very hostile toward Stan and had been harassing him.
It was clear that Terry, Larry, Kelly, and Debbie wanted to resolve this situation with Stan, but really did not know what to do. Stan indicated that he had to pay an ambulance bill, that his clothes had been damaged, and that he had lost wages as a result of this. He felt that they should take responsibility for these costs.
The mediators asked all of the parties to jot down things that they would like to see included in an agreement. From their hesitation, it was clear that some of them likely had difficulty with writing skills. (Two of them printed their names on the agreement form).
Kelly, who had been only minimally involved in the incident, suggested that they all equally share the costs. It was a moving moment. Stan was very accepting of this offer, and everyone agreed. Stan verbalized that he would know that they were sorry for the incident if they followed through on their commitment to reimburse him for his bills. Debbie also gave assurances that there would be no further threats to Stan or his family, and that she would convey this to her friends.
All of the accused had limited financial means. Debbie was on social assistance. All of them completed the payments as agreed, with the exception of Kelly. He was several months late with his payment.
In the follow-up discussions with Stan, it was evident that the mediation had been significant for him. The payments were a symbolic yet tangible sign that the accused persons had taken responsibility for their actions. Stan was receiving counselling through his school because the event had been extremely traumatic for him. Mediation was a part of the healing process for him.
The court was notified about the results of the mediation. When the youths completed their payments, the charges against them were stayed. Debbie pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and received a conditional discharge with two years supervised probation. Her sentence was influenced by her participation in the mediation.
While it was extremely challenging to do the casework on this referral, this mediation has lingered in the minds of the mediators as a particularly significant example of the power of the mediation process in the journey towards accountability and restoration of relationships.
Mediation Services works in cooperation with the Crown Attorney's Office to provide victim/offender mediation. A caseworker will contact the persons involved to discuss their concerns and to assess whether or not mediation is appropriate. If persons are willing to meet, a mediation session is arranged for a time convenient for all participants; evening sessions are available. At the meeting, trained volunteer mediators will help the parties communicate with each other. The mediators do not make decisions for the parties, but assist them to work toward a resolution that they feel is fair and that addresses their needs. If an agreement is reached, the terms are written down and signed by everyone. If an agreement is not reached, the case is referred back to court.
Mediation Services will follow up on agreements to monitor their completion. Some agreements include arrangements for counselling, restitution, or community service work. When a mediated agreement is completed, a recommendation is made that the criminal charges not proceed further in court. In post-plea cases, the mediated agreement is taken into consideration at the time of sentencing.
There are many benefits to mediation. Mediation is a process which allows for direct and personal accountability for actions which have resulted in a criminal charge. The victim has the opportunity to express his/her views directly to the offender. The victim has the opportunity to obtain realistic compensation for losses incurred as a result of the incident. Offenders have the opportunity to learn about the consequences of their actions, to apologize, express regrets, and make amends directly to the victim. Mediation provides the offender with an opportunity to participate in a process through which the stigma of a criminal record can be avoided. Mediation contributes to the peace of the community by assisting persons to reach resolutions that address the cause of the conflict.
583 Ellice Avenue, 3rd Floor
Tel. (204) 774-2469
Fax (204) 772-4776
For more information about victim/offender reconciliation or mediation programs in Canada, contact:
The Network: Interaction for Conflict Resolution
Conrad Grebel College
Tel. (519) 885-0880
Fax: (519) 885-0806
Community Holistic Circle Healing Program - Hollow Water First Nation
This program demonstrates how an entire community chose alternative ways to deal with pervasive physical and sexual abuse in their midst. This man charged with sexual assault would have been facing a jail term otherwise.
A 62-year-old male is charged with sexual assault on an eleven-year-old female in December, 1988. He has no prior history of criminal activity.
The victim had disclosed in November and has had difficulty dealing with family members since the disclosure was made. The victimizer is viewed by the family as a grandfather figure. As the victimizer was recently widowed, the victim had been helping out with housecleaning and had on occasion stayed overnight prior to disclosure. Workers note that the victim was a fairly good student with lots of friends prior to the incident and now she has dropped out of school and is "a loner". She attended Self Awareness Training in February 1990 and decided to repeat the training in March, 1990. She is receiving individual counselling and attends youth and women's counselling group sessions.
The victimizer was born in Hollow Water and has always resided there. He attended school in Hollow Water until grade four and then started working cutting pulp with his father. He also worked fighting fires, trapping, ice fishing and as a janitor until he retired three years ago. He was married for 36 years and was widowed in 1986. He has an adopted son who is now 22 years old. As a result of contact with his worker, he started attending weekly Victimizer Group Therapy sessions and attended a sharing circle session with the Assessment Team.
The purpose of the circle session was to allow Team members the opportunity to hear his account of the incident and to provide information to assist the group in making a full assessment of where the victimizer was in terms of his own healing.
The Team make the following assessment. We believe the victimizer is sincere in his desire to take responsibility for what he has done. However, we do not believe that he is in fact taking full responsibility.
We recognize that he has taken steps toward his healing. He is beginning to understand and accept the wrong that he did. He accepts and believes that this community approach is crucial to his healing.
We believe that the victimizer needs intensive help from the community as well as outside professional resources. He has great difficulty getting in touch with his feelings and he has little appreciation of the issue of victimization and the long term effects.
He has been cooperative and is committed to his own personal healing. We believe that he is at the beginning stages of his own healing. We are convinced that he will come to recognize that his healing is a lifetime process.
As a result of this assessment, the Team recommended to the court that he be placed on probation for the maximum time possible. Conditions of probation included:
That he comply with Community Holistic Circle Healing requirements, specifically;
- that he complete the steps of the healing process;
- that he participate in self-awareness training, individual and family therapy sessions, weekly Victimizers' Circle sessions, sharing circles and workshops on sexual abuse;
- that he undergo a psychological assessment immediately, and that he undergo a further psychological assessment within two months prior to the expiry of the period of supervised probation;
- that he be required to perform a substantial amount of community work, volunteering to Hollow Water Home and Public Works Maintenance Program, Wanipigow School Maintenance Program, and Hollow Water Volunteer Fire Department;
- that contact between (victimizer) and (victim) be subject to the control and regulation of the Assessment Team and that he not be allowed on the same premises as the victim;
- that he do upgrading and vocational training.
The victimizer is presently on probation and is respecting the various conditions as required. The victim has recently returned to school and is progressing well.
Hollow Water is an Ojibway community of 600 people located on Lake Winnipeg, two hundred kilometres north of Winnipeg. Community leaders estimate that 75 per cent of the population are victims of sexual abuse, and 35 per cent are "victimizers". Manitoba Associate Chief Judge Murray Sinclair has hailed the Hollow Water First Nation as an "outstanding example" of local people becoming involved in dealing with sexual offenders after that community decided that the criminal justice system was not working.
"They (the community) took it upon themselves to establish a program that brings together the victim, the offender, the community and the justice system in a way that causes us in the justice system to do things differently than we have always done with those kinds of offenders in those kinds of circumstances," commented Judge Sinclair, an Ojibway who was co-chair of the Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry.
Sexual offenders who plead guilty are placed on three years probation. Specially trained community members employ an intensive, holistic approach to heal the victimizer, the victim and their families. The result has been a reported dramatic reduction in rates of recidivism.
The process is guided by the Thirteen Steps which represent a capsulation of the process victimizers, victims and their respective families undergo. Briefly, the Thirteen Steps are as follows:
Step 1 - Disclosure
Step 2 - Protecting the Victim/Child
Step 3 - Confronting the Victimizer
Step 4 - Assisting the Spouse
Step 5 - Assisting the Family(ies)/The Community
Step 6 - Meeting of Assessment Team/RCMP/Crown
Step 7 - Victimizer Must Admit and Accept Responsibility
Step 8 - Preparation of the Victimizer
Step 9 - Preparation of the Victim
Step 10 - Preparation of All the Families
Step 11 - The Special Gathering
Step 12 - The Healing Contract Implemented
Step 13 - The Cleansing Ceremony
Community Holistic Circle Healing Program
Hollow Water First Nation
Tel. (204) 363-7278
Mike from Rosemary, Alberta - A Community Takes On the Justice System
This story concerns a hostage taking at gun point for which the person responsible was facing the prospect of 10 to 12 years in prison.
...Flashback to January 17, 1993. Rosemary farmer Richard Wiens and Peter Plett of nearby Gem woke up to a startling story on the radio detailing a crime that had happened the night before in Brooks. A young man had taken some family members hostage, forced them into his truck, and ended up at the Brooks Hospital carrying an automatic weapon and looking for his wife.
Medical staff had been held hostage until an RCMP officer had managed to talk the perpetrator into giving himself up. Automatic weapons, attempted kidnapping, assault...this wasn't the kind of thing that happened in a sleepy Alberta town.
Then the bomb really dropped: a young man named Michael Gallup was in custody for the crime.
"Michael was on my school bus." says Peter. "I couldn't believe it."
...Mike himself shudders now at the folly of that horrible night. Too many drinks at a bonspiel party, a fight with his wife, pent up anger from an unresolved family issue, more drinks, and the crime spree was on.
...But the story here is not of a good kid gone bad or a young man lost in the prison system. Unfortunately there are enough of those to make Mike's case relatively commonplace.
"The real story here," says Darrel Heidebrecht, director of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Alberta's Community Justice Ministries, "is the story of community involvement and a different approach to justice. It's the story of a more biblical, restorative way of doing justice."
...With support from Heidebrecht at MCC, a community meeting was called to learn as much as possible about the crime and the sentencing procedure.
"We felt our role was to ask the court for leniency," says Richard. "It would have been foolish to ask for a dismissal - after all, Mike was guilty. But we wanted the judge to know that we, his community, felt the best possible option for Mike was to come home from jail as soon as possible."
Within a few days, more than 80 persons from all walks of life had signed a letter to the judge describing the community's response.
The meeting also gave Mike's mother, Allison, and his wife, Carla, a chance to speak forthrightly with the community. Rumours had engulfed the already-sensational story like a prairie brush fire and here was the opportunity to tell their story and acknowledge the pain that Mike had caused.
The fact that both the meeting and the letter were initiated locally is a crucial part of the story, according to Heidebrecht. "This wasn't a case of MCC or any other agency parachuting into town to tell people what to do. The criminal justice world doesn't need another program."
"It needs people like Peter and Richard and all the others who signed the letter who are willing to implement a new vision."
..."What we hadn't counted on was such an aggressive prosecutor," adds Peter. "Here was a first offender, a young kid who could have been anyone's son...
"But there was no room for forgiveness or leniency in the crown prosecutor's vocabulary. He asked for the harshest penalty he could, ostensibly on behalf of the interests of 'the people'.
Yet we were 'the people' trying to say that locking him up for years and years in a federal penitentiary was not the answer."
Mike's own testimony and the unusual support of the community had a strong impact on the judge. Instead of the maximum ten to twelve years he sentenced Mike to five and a half years. His first parole eligibility hearing comes up this July.
"It's critical now, until parole becomes a reality," says Heidebrecht, "that Mike retains connections with his home community. If he doesn't, there's another community waiting to embrace him."
...Even Mike's prison psychiatrist has stated that prison holds no more purpose for him. The punitive "lesson" of incarceration was learned for Mike in the first six or seven weeks. Any longer in prison will just push him further into the criminal culture.
..."There's nothing very complicated or revolutionary here. It's just a matter of living out who we say we are."
(Excerpted from A community takes on the justice system
by Doris Daley, Mennonite Reporter, May 16, 1994)
Mike is now on full parole back in his home community where he has since participated in a mediated meeting with one of his victims which proved to be a very significant step in his and the victim's healing.
"This wasn't a case of MCC or any other agency parachuting into town to tell people what to do. The criminal justice world doesn't need another program."
"It needs people like Peter and Richard and all the others who signed the letter who are willing to implement a new vision."
Darrel Heidebrecht, MCC Alberta Community Justice Ministries
A Community in Action
The community initiative described in this story was the result of caring individuals who believed that jail was not the best solution to the criminal behaviour that had taken place. They were supported in their vision and goals by Community Justice Initiatives (CJI), a program of Mennonite Central Committee Alberta.
Community Justice Initiatives, operating throughout Alberta from offices in Calgary and Edmonton, offers a number of programs and services including victim assistance, mediation, pri- soner visitation, public education, transportation services for prisoner's families and a community chaplaincy.
Their Victim-Offender Mediation Project diverts offenders with minor property and assault charges away from traditional sentencing into a mediation program. This program brings together the parties involved in an offence and, with the assistance of trained mediators, attempts to bring resolution to the problem through agreements involving apology, restitution or other compensation.
"Mediation humanizes the crime," says Heidebrecht. "It allows people to, in a sense, create their own solutions."
While mediation is often used instead of incarceration, it can also be used in conjunction with or following imprisonment to address the many needs of the victim, the offender, their families and the surrounding community to which a prison sentence does not attend.
Community Justice Ministries
76 Skyline Cres. N.E.
Tel. (403) 275-6935
Fax: (403) 275-3711
Pro-Services - Québec City, Québec
Pro-Services is a Québec City project that has created a community partnership to repair the harm caused by crime and prevent its reoccurrence. It is beginning with youth and property crime, but plans to develop neighbourhood-based councils that can eventually serve to divert many types of crime, deal with them locally and avoid incarceration as much as possible. For example, when a crime happens, Pro-Services provides conflict resolution and reparation to divert the offences from the criminal justice system and to attend to the factors which contributed to the crime. The project brings together young people, the victims of crime, their respective families, neighbours and other affected members of the community to find lasting solutions to the problem of crime. The project came about with a significant funding base from the corporate sector, because the business community has been educated to realize that the systemic impediments of the punitive adversarial criminal justice system do not serve the justice, crime prevention, public relations or economic business interests of the corporate world.
Besides conflict resolution, the program includes:
- a significant sensitization component which helps business people, service providers and community members see the benefits of dealing with minor property crimes in a community-based problem-solving way;
- situational crime prevention in the form of "courtesy" officers who are trained and paid by the corporate employers to "pre-empt" crime by youth in stores and other businesses;
- a proactively developed network of community support for youth involving one adult and one youth volunteer for every 20 homes in a neighbourhood. This network provides information, support and discussion groups to help community members share in the responsibility for crime prevention.
Luc Landry, Adrien Pichette
Centre de service communautaire Justice et Foi
369 St - Jean
Tél. (418) 529-2727
Atoskata - Victim Compensation Project for Youth Regina, Saskatchewan
Atoskata, a Cree phrase meaning "work at it", is the name given to the Victim Compensation Project run out of the Regina Friendship Centre.
A Regina teen was given 18 months probation instead of the expected prison term for stealing a car and leading police on a high-speed chase. A year earlier, the same youth received 18 months probation and 100 hours of community service for six car thefts. The new offence might have led to a term of custody, especially in a community which has seen a huge increase in auto thefts which have resulted in public pressure to jail teen criminals.
But the judge rejected a custodial sentence, citing the different approach of the Atoskata Program. The program, set up especially to deal with young car thieves, finds businesses that will pay the accused for his community service. The accused can then pay the victim's insurance or other repair costs with the money he earns.
The boy's parents agreed with the sentence, saying their son has turned his life around since his latest arrest. "We want to keep him at home and we agree that he should do some work for the community," said the boy's father.
" A criminal justice system cannot succeed in isolation. It cannot alone make a society safe. It's incapable of doing that because it deals with effects and not with causes. By the time the justice system becomes engaged, people are in trouble. The harm has been done and charges have been laid.
Some people assume that we can make things better, make the streets safer just by chalking up the penalties, but that is not going to solve the problem alone. Just throwing more kids in jail is not the only answer. That will not improve public safety. Mr. Chairman, let's do the hard work and make the tough choices and get it right, because by itself more law or even better law will never be the complete answer. In the long run the surest protection is in crime prevention."
Justice Minister Allan Rock
Nov. 20, 1995
Rising auto thefts in Regina captured the attention of the public and prompted the police and judiciary to respond initially in a punitive manner that they felt would deter further incidents. Closed custody sentences became an increasingly used option for offending youths, with the length of sentence rising by approximately two months in each of the last few years.
Saskatchewan uses the option of custody as a response to youth crime considerably more than the national average or some other countries. Figures from 1979 to 1994 show that the province takes 1,712 youths into custody per every 100,000 compared to a national average of approximately 1,000. In the United States it is 724.
Concerns about the rising use of custody resulted in the Saskatchewan Department of Social Services exploring community alternatives to custody that would respond to public and judicial system concerns. The idea was to develop sentencing options which provide restorative justice programs for youths.
As a result, a number of human service agencies joined together to develop a pilot project where convicted youths could earn money or provide personal services that would compensate victims for some costs they incurred.
The goals of the project were to: provide an opportunity for youth involved in the theft of vehicles to make some suitable compensation, through generating earnings for restitution or through personal service, to victims of their crimes; provide an opportunity for youth to experience mentoring relationships with aboriginal elders as a form of traditional healing and learning relevant to offending behaviour; demonstrate that effective youth justice responses can be delivered through community partnerships.
While the program has social and educational elements, it is primarily a work program for youths who want to work. The designated population is court ordered youths, 12 to 17 years of age, convicted for theft of vehicles. The maximum number of youths receiving direct supervision in the program is twelve.
Youth Service Program Director
Department of Social Services
2045 Broad St.
Tel. (306) 787-3695
Fax (306) 787-4940
Mediation for Reparation in Cases of Serious Crime - Leuven, Belgium
A current project in Belgium using mediation between victims and offenders for serious crimes hopes to demonstrate that a restorative or reparative approach is workable within the very core of the criminal justice system. Mediation for Reparation deals exclusively with adult offenders and will concentrate on recidivists.
"Both parties involved in mediation experience a different type of 'justice' than they expected. They feel much more related to this way of intervention and get the feeling that they themselves are creating 'justice' instead of passively undergoing 'justice'. In such an approach, both sides feel more responsible and put aside traditional stereotypes in their way of thinking.... The destruction of 'myths' seems to be one of the most important effects of the mediation process.... the traditional criminal justice process will support the myths about the suspected criminal since the available information is selected only to serve prosecution and sentencing. Mediation, on the contrary, focuses on another type of information in bringing the conflicting parties nearer to an agreement."
Tony Peters and Ivo Aertsen, Mediation for Reparation
All types of crimes are eligible for mediation although there has been reluctance to accept intra-family violence. A preliminary study of 30 cases actually referred found agreements were reached in half of the 20 cases which are finished. "They represent a certain seriousness of crime but are certainly not the most serious or violent crimes", the report concluded. Mediated cases included many offences where victims were hospitalized or otherwise incapacitated to work, theft and a few cases of rape and sexual violence. The early findings show victims slightly more in favour of mediation than the offender. Generally, the victims do not prefer a prison sentence. Instead, they care very much about stopping the offender from committing further crime.
The prosecutor must already have decided to prosecute on the basis of the seriousness of the crime and/or the previous criminal record of the suspect. The fact that the case will be heard by a judge has the advantage that there will be the time needed for a process of mediation and for eventually drawing up a written contract between the partners, as well as for its implementation and evaluation.
The action research project is being carried out by the University Victimology Research Team in conjunction with the chief prosecutor's office. Together they select the particular cases for mediation. The prosecutor invites both the offender and the victim to meet the mediator and to collaborate voluntarily to search for a solution to their problem. We quote from the project's preliminary findings:
"One recognizes, more than was expected, the situation of the opposite party. This does not exclude the fact that some victims stick to a rather hard and retributive attitude, until the signing of the contract. The offender shows initially an uninterested, minimizing, hesitating or defensive attitude. The fact that he knows that he will be prosecuted and will have to appear in court increases his suspicion against mediation. The offender, like the victim on the other side, cultivates a lot of stereotypes. He stresses the provocative attitude of the victim or his higher socio-economic status. The victim is seen as a person who wants to exploit the offender. Offenders try to anticipate the future judicial decision in two ways: on the one hand, some will complain about the fact that they will not get a real chance or opportunity; on the other hand, some do understand that collaboration serves their own interests very much. The fact that the mediator as well as the victim are prepared to listen and to take into account the offender's personal background has a stimulating effect and may result in a process of showing more sincerity and readiness by doing something for his victim."
As part of the project, a local social welfare organization offers offender and victim assistance through separate teams. Its role in the project is of essential importance in cases when one, or possibly both parties, are in need of particular and/or longer lasting assistance. The project has already discovered that this type of mediation is labour-intensive, the process taking between two and three months with many preliminary and separate meetings with the two sides.
The project wants to reshape how society and its formal institutions respond to crime - away from the exclusive bi-polar "state against the delinquent" notion to the triangular structure of offender, victim and community. Mediation is encouraged to overcome "the systematic neglect of restitution within the administration of criminal justice".
Mediation for Reparation tries to establish as fast as possible a relationship between the offender and the victim. The main goal is to stimulate each of them to take an active part in the search for the development of a solution. The mediator gradually passes the initiative to both parties. Finally, the offender and the victim have to be convinced of the fact that they are the creators of a justice solution.
Tony Peters or Ivo Aertsen
Katholiche Universiteil Leuven
Afdellng Strafrecht, Strafvordering en Criminologie
Governor Turns Down Money from Prison-Alternatives Group
Arizona Gov. Fife Symington has turned down free money offered by a New York City foundation that advocated alternatives to prison, saying he wants no part of keeping lawbreakers at large.
In the March letter, Symington said he won't "be involved in efforts to leave greater numbers of... criminals at large in Arizona communities, except to resist strenuously all such efforts."
The $485 million Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, a private group named for a late heir to the Avon toiletries fortune, favours options such as home arrest and intensive probation to prison.
The group has given millions of dollars for prison-reform programs in Alabama, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
More than 20 Arizona judges, lawmakers and other law enforcement officials who took part in a two-day retreat in Mesa ending June 9 said they want the governor to reconsider his decision.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that we need to start doing some different things and expanding our thinking," said Judge Ronald Reinstein, presiding criminal judge in Maricopa County Superior Court.
[end of article]
Community Response to Crime - A More Creative Use of Probation Minnesota
The Community Response to Crime program got started in response to the concern that traditional probation services were not as effective as desired in reducing the offender's future criminal behaviour. While the client's involvement in crime was suppressed while under supervision, it often resumed when the supervision period ended. "The goal of the Community Response to Crime Program was to move offenders from a position of culpability in the community to one where they are gradually welcomed back and rewarded by the community for their positive efforts. By utilizing community resources in a closer and more personal way with offenders, it is hoped that several of the community's previously held beliefs will be challenged. Eventually, they might see crime and its resolution as a community responsibility as opposed to one wherein other entities, including the state, corrections or the courts are expected to 'fix it' for them."
The program is a model of supervision that augments traditional probation where individuals that represent the community at large are brought together in an intervention process with offenders to hold them accountable for their behaviour. Prior to a plea bargain being finalized, offenders are screened by a probation officer for participation in the program. Offenders who agree to enter into the program will have a portion of their jail sentence reduced. The program is too new to evaluate but initial reports point to about half of the offenders having the jail portion of their sentence eliminated; some judges are reluctant to do away with the custodial term completely although that is the goal of the project. Within 30 days from sentencing, the offender meets with the panel, which includes representatives from churches, ex-offenders, human services providers, culturally specific interests, private citizens, education officials, law enforcement, business people, victims groups, offender's family members and government officials. Other session are held at 60 days, 120 days and one year after sentencing. Offenders then undergo a graduation ceremony and are placed on unsupervised probation an additional two years.
Before the first meeting, panel members and the offender are given training in the area of restorative justice and there is a trained interventionist present to guide the process. The intervention process is used to "overwhelm offenders" with information relative to how their criminal conduct has negatively impacted the community. Prior to this intervention, the offender's direct victim is invited to participate in victim/offender mediation . What was initially a confrontational situation in the intervention session is turned into one where both the offender and the community unite in trying to work toward a positive resolution. This involves stringent conditions of probation for the offender as well as following the recommendations of the community members at the intervention meeting. The offender reports to the community committee to document efforts to succeed. The intervention process gives community members the opportunity to vent their frustrations about the criminal behaviour and to unite to improve the offender's life and, thereby, their community.
This model is designed to offer incentives to offenders who are satisfactorily progressing in their adjustment to probation, including a reduction in the amount of initial jail time that they would normally have received through a conditional suspension of jail time. If the offender fails to satisfactorily complete the program, a report is forwarded to the Court recommending that probation be revoked and that the conditionally suspended jail sentence be executed.
The good news about this approach is that it is quite similar to the successful "reintegrative shaming model" of "family group conferencing" and "circles" (see Section Two) which holds offenders accountable and then welcomes them back to the community, involving the victim and public in the process. It reduces incarceration and educates the community on a number of longstanding issues, beliefs and stereotypes facing corrections.
The bad news is that it does not question the premise of the necessity of a jail term at all for this group of offenders. It could result in net-widening and people ending up in jail for failing the program who would never have been there if it were not for the program.
Department of Corrections
P.O. Box 397
Bemidji, Minnesota 56619
Tel. (218) 755-4092
Fax (218) 755-4186
Post-Conviction Mediation Program Reduces Sentences, Oklahoma
This program is a combination of mediation and intensive supervision, with the innovative feature that the mediated agreement may lead to a reduction in the initial jail sentence.
The offender, Philip (not his real name), was convicted of embezzlement. This was his second such conviction. Philip stated that he needed the money to support his growing family and that he never seemed to be able to save any part of his income or to live within his income. He was ordered to pay approximately $15,000 total in restitution and jail time was suspended. Due to family and work problems plus an unrealistic payment schedule that was ordered by the court, Philip was unable to make his payments and his sentence was revoked. He was sentenced to four years of incarceration and one additional year of probation.
Through mediation while he was in prison, Philip and a representative of the corporate victim agreed on a payment schedule that was sensitive to the victim's needs but also within the offender's ability to pay. In addition, Philip voluntarily agreed to attend Consumer Credit Counselling to learn to manage and budget his money. Moreover, he agreed to do 8 hours a week in community service for six weeks.
Although the victim wished the offender to be released from incarceration as soon as possible, the Department recommended the sentence be modified to five months incarceration and the remaining four years to be under Intensive Supervision. The victim also expressed interest in allowing Philip to work off part of the restitution at the victim's place of business (offender is a carpenter by trade) and this proposal will be evaluated after a year, provided Philip has kept the other provisions of the Agreement.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections' Victim/Offender Mediation Program began in 1984. The first referrals to the program were a result of Oklahoma's Judicial Review statute. This law allows the sentencing judge to modify an offender's sentence within 120 days of the sentencing date if an offender has not been incarcerated within the last ten years.
Mediation hearings are conducted by the Department of Corrections in order to recommend sentence modifications or as part of a case pre-sentence investigation to propose an appropriate sentence.
The Department does not automatically exclude any type of case for mediation. The most important consideration is whether both parties are willing to mediate. Consequently, cases have ranged from property offences to homicide.
The mediation process encourages and facilitates the sharing of the victim's feelings about the criminal incident and its impact while emphasizing offender accountability and responsibility. Mediation agreements generally address: length of incarceration/ supervision, community service, rehabilitative programs for either person, and restitution for the victim. For instance, agreements have included terms for restitution, treatment, giving the offender employment, repairs to property, supervised visitations, education, and other terms which the parties believe would meet their needs.
The agreement, including any recommendations for a reduction in the length of incarceration, is considered by the judge in modifying the sentence originally imposed.
The Department of Corrections provides in-depth training to staff and volunteers across the state on conducting victim interviews and holding mediation sessions. Experience has shown that approximately 95% of mediated hearings result in agreements that are satisfactory to the victim. In fact, often both parties emerge from the experience with an improved satisfaction with the criminal justice system. Offenders who have been mediated are reportedly "model" probationers while under supervision. Less than 8% of offenders who have been mediated failed to carry out their mediated agreement or were involved in any new crimes.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections
3400 Martin Luther King Ave.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Tel. (405) 425-2666
Fax (405) 425-2680
Family Group Conferences - Doing What Prisons Fail to Do
The following account of a remarkable family group conference is included in Section One even though it did not avoid or significantly reduce the use of custody. However, we felt the story merited telling in this section primarily because it illustrates the extraordinary potential of this process for reparation and healing in a community. It is a reminder that even when the court has dealt with a crime, there is great potential for family conferences to address the many unmet needs of victim, offender and the community. This family conference in Philadelphia did just that in dramatic fashion following an incident which involved two 17-year-old Asian youths who had fire bombed a house in which four victims were trapped on the first floor and had to jump out to survive. They had been sentenced to a minimum of two years detention. The following story demonstrates both the potential of the conferences in community and correctional settings as well as the inescapable conclusion that a prison sentence fails to provide satisfying justice.
The Story - New Hope for Fire Bomb Victims
On a recent trip to Philadelphia (USA), Terry O'Connell of Australia was asked by a psychologist to consider running a family conference for a serious matter which had already been finalized at the court. Terry, with four other Australians involved in training police and teachers in family conferencing (see Section Two), agreed.
"When I understood how serious and complicated the matter was" says O'Connell, "I realized that it presented a great opportunity to demonstrate how powerful the conference process was even with the worst case scenario. Of course I agreed to coordinate the conference". The incident involved two 17-year-old Asian male offenders who had fire bombed a house, in which four victims were trapped on the first floor, and had to jump out to survive. The house and contents were completely destroyed and one of the victims (the mother) broke her back in the fall. The precipitating event was the allegation that one of the victims had directed some racial slurs at the offenders. The matter was heard at the local county court, where an attempt to have the offenders "certified" (so they would be tried as adults) was not successful. The offenders were sentenced to a minimum of two years detention.
"The hardest challenge I faced" said O'Connell, "was navigating the bureaucratic hurdles. Negotiating with the probation personnel, victim support people, the police, the lawyers was far harder than managing the victims and offenders. They continually told me about their concern for the victims, but I suspected it was about not wanting to be responsible if something were to go wrong. I was continually told that the victims would not want to be involved. Reason given - too traumatised or it had only been three months since the incident, and they needed more time to recover. Of course, no one was able to tell me what was an appropriate amount of time."
O'Connell finally got access to the victims and met them in their rented home for about 90 minutes. "I have not experienced a more pitiful sight" recalled O'Connell, "meeting a family that was so highly regarded, which contained two champion basketball players, and the local regional basketball coach, who had completely lost it as a result of the trauma from the crime. Both boys were constantly frightened, had hardly slept since the incident, had completely lost interest in school and basketball. Their mother, who was clad in a large brace, needed a steel walking frame to get around. The father cried constantly and had gone from being a very popular outgoing teacher to a stage "where nothing really mattered any more". They agreed to participate although they had some reservations."
After negotiating in the local prison with the two offenders and their families, O'Connell held a family group conference in the county hall (above the police station) on a Sunday afternoon. The conference lasted three hours and involved 30 participants (which comprised victims, offenders, families, friends and neighbours). In describing the conference as the most emotional conference he had co-ordinated, O'Connell said: "Listening to the anguish of the victims for about 90 minutes was extremely difficult for everyone. This had a significant impact on the offenders and others.
However, by the end of the conference there was a complete transformation in the victims' emotional states and general outlook. It was an amazing experience to see the two young victims smiling and hugging people, where two hours earlier they virtually could not look at anyone."
The conference was an outstanding success as it gave the victims the opportunity to address some of their emotional needs. The victims felt the conference gave them some hope for the future, something that the court had failed to provide. As for the offenders, it gave them and their families an insight and an opportunity to rebuild some trust between themselves and the broader community.
The conference was observed by a number of mental health professionals. One, a psychiatrist, approached O'Connell after the conference and reflected on how powerful the process was. "It was his comment" said O'Connell, "that convinced me about the need to provide similar opportunities for all serious criminal matters. He expressed the view that this intervention had the potential to minimize the impact that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was likely to have on the victims".
(This article first appeared in Real Justice Forum, a family group conferencing newsletter published by Real Justice, Pipersville, Pennsylvania. For contact information, see Section Two on family group conferencing).
Another Conference which Repaired Harm: A Serious Assault Case
Another example of a post-adjudicatory conference which satisfied many of the unmet needs of everyone affected by a crime followed a serious assault in Pennsylvania. Four youths had beaten a boy, causing severe head trauma with possible permanent damage. They were in a custodial placement of several months but, before they were released, it was recommended they attend a conference to provide healing and closure. The court consented and the conference outcome was dramatic; the offenders realized for the first time the extent of the harm they had done. The conference ended with the victim and his parents forgiving the offenders for what happened.
Circles of Support and Accountability for Released Sex Offenders - One Community's Story
(as told by Harry Nigh)
This past June, an old friend came out of prison after seven years and he came to live in our town.
A lot of the people in our community wanted him to stay in prison.
When the police released information about his release, our local paper made Sam front page news. (Sam is not his real name). The school board gave copies of the story to every school kid in the region. Our nine-year-old got his picture in school, and recognized my friend and blurted out, "I know him - he was at our place for supper last night."
Somebody leaked to the press the name of the street that Sam lived on, and within hours every street light had a photocopy of his picture taped to it.
The police mounted an expensive 24- hour under-cover surveillance of Sam with two or often three officers in front and back of his residence. Sam has a generous heart and soon after they set up their operation, he went out and knocked on the window of one of their cars, and invited them in to share a fresh pot of coffee. Just like Beverley Hills Cops - they were not amused!
We had decided before he came out to build a small "Circle of Support" for Sam because he did not have family around him. We helped him to find an apartment, and furniture and to make friends.
Should we invite Sam to join our church community? Already, I had been on the front page with Sam, but what about our community?
The church met twice and unanimously agreed to invite Sam to be part of us, and established some guidelines.
Every one had a chance to speak, and the one voice I remember from a woman struggling on welfare was, "Where would we be if Jesus hadn't accepted us? How can we not welcome Sam?"
One Sunday night, shortly after Sam arrived, in the face of the media attention and under the gaze of the police, about two dozen people from the community went over to Sam's place and brought food and guitars and gifts and had a welcoming party-
Just to say, very simply, your name is not
"unwanted, unloved, outsider".
We want to call you
"one of us, friend, neighbour".
I think it was a turning point in Sam's acceptance, because the police had been holding bi-weekly meetings to find some loophole to return him to an institution, but that simple gesture and the efforts of our small support group seemed to give Sam a second chance.
One Sunday morning after church, the decision of our group came under fire when a drunk neighbour loudly started condemning Sam as he came out of church. He threatened to kill him, told him he was not welcome in the neighbourhood and that if he came back he would take a shotgun and shoot him. Other neighbours came out of the doors to hear this disturbance.
Our little group was shaken. God, what do we do now?
How can anything positive come out of this?
The next morning, our angry neighbour asked to see me. He apologized for what he had said, apologized to our church, and said, "Tell that man he has nothing to fear from me." As we talked, he spoke of his past.
He showed me documents that revealed that he had been the victim of the training school abuse. It was clear that he was afraid and alone, raising two young kids by himself. And when I invited him to come over and join us the next Sunday, he was in church with his two kids. Two weeks later, I watched as John and Sam shook hands and cleared up the disturbance.
Can you imagine what this has done to our church? A young mother came after the service and said, "It blows my mind that that guy was in church this week. I just can't believe it." She wasn't the only one.
This whole experience with all of its fears has become an experience of grace. Sam's coming to us has been a gift in may ways.
I caught a glimpse of the power of this love the night of Sam's party. Sam, in his generosity, invited all the people he knew, even the officers who kept him under surveillance. He was disappointed when they didn't show up. Then at 10:30 p.m, one officer came timidly up the back steps into the kitchen and apologized. "We were afraid that the press might be here..."
I saw that despite the budget and numbers and physical force of our police force the real, liberating power lay within a little community that simply reached out in love.
"I saw that despite the budget and numbers and physical force of our police force the real, liberating power lay within a little community that simply reached out in love."
As a result of community initiatives such as this, a proposal for a Community Re-integration Project has been developed to reduce the risk of re-offence by individuals convicted of sexual offences and to ease the transition of the ex-offender into the community.
The project involves community volunteers who form support groups or "circles of support and accountability" with high profile or potentially high profile sex offenders who are re-entering the community at warrant expiry from the prison system. This relationship includes a commitment on the part of the ex-offender to relate to the circle of support and accept its help and advice, to pursue a pre-determined course of treatment, and to act responsibly in the community. The circle of support will provide intensive support for the ex-offender, mediating between police, media, and the community-at-large to assist a safe, orderly adjustment to everyday life in the community.
This project is sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario (MCCO) in cooperation with Toronto Community Chaplaincy.
While not directly reducing the use or length of incarceration, the project hopes to make an impact on recidivism by facilitating the successful reintegration of the ex-offender into the community.
Community Justice Ministries
Conflict Mediation Services of Downsview
95 Eddystone Avenue
North York, Ontario
Tel. (416) 740-2522
Fax (416) 740-8036
Reverend Hugh Kirkegaard
Toronto Community Chaplaincy
Correctional Service Canada
330 Keele Street - Main Floor
Tel. (416) 604-4391
Fax (416) 973-9723
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