Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Choice for safer society offered

Reconciliation rather than just punishment

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November 17, 2013 - 131117  -  Phoebe Man and Rico John of 4 Direction Drummers play drums at the Restorative Justice Week kick off event at the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre in Winnipeg Sunday, November 17, 2013. John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

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November 17, 2013 - 131117 - Phoebe Man and Rico John of 4 Direction Drummers play drums at the Restorative Justice Week kick off event at the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre in Winnipeg Sunday, November 17, 2013. John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press Photo Store

If you had the chance to confront someone who committed a crime against you, would you take it?

What if you committed the offence and had an opportunity to explain or apologize to your victim?

Both those scenarios could make a difference in the lives of the criminal and victim, say groups involved with Restorative Justice Week 2013, which began Sunday across Canada.

Restorative justice focuses on the harm caused by the crime, healing for the victims, accountability for the offenders and the integration of both sides into the community.

"The message is primarily one of education and community awareness around an alternate vision to provide safety in our communities," said Ken Kuhn, a retired prison chaplain and member of the Manitoba Multifaith Council's justice and corrections committee. "The alternate vision has to do with reconciliation rather than just punishment, with getting people back into the community rather than excluding them from the community and helping to restore broken lives and broken relationships."

Community and cultural groups, government and law-enforcement officials and faith organizations came together at the kickoff event Sunday at the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre.

The 4 Direction Drummers sent a message of unity by blending the drumming styles of four cultures with performances by aboriginal drummer Ray Stevenson, Japanese drummer Phoebe Man, African drummer Rostant John and Celtic drummer Jennifer Clark.

Kuhn said the Open Circle program encourages offenders to take responsibility for their actions while providing support for them to move forward with their lives. The visitation program, Open Circle brings together a community volunteer with a person in prison. The volunteer visits the inmate once a month and when the person is released the volunteer continues to provide a community connection.

"I have heard testimonies from ex-offenders that I knew at Stony Mountain how helpful that was for them," Kuhn said. "It's an excellent program."

Gaelene Askeland, the executive director of Initiatives For Just Communities, said Open Circle has been running for 40 years.

"It's a chance for these people to build relationships with people on the outside and to get the community back involved," she said.

Askeland said the Circles of Support and Accountability program involves trained volunteers working with medium- and high-risk offenders who are returning to society after being released from prison. She said 70 per cent of people who participate in the program do not reoffend.

"It's a very intense volunteer experience -- it's two hours every week for at least a year, working with some of the most difficult people who would otherwise be ostracized in the community," Askeland said. "We can't give up on them. When we marginalize them, it causes negative emotions, which swirls and spirals into negative behaviours. We try to break that. We try to support them and create a real relationship, a friendship, that very often they've never had before."

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 18, 2013 A7

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