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Restorative justice legislation expected this spring

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Manitoba announced it will introduce legislation this spring that's intended to expand the use of restorative justice as a way to reduce crime and relieve the burden on the province's justice system.

"Restorative justice in the community can result in better outcomes, lower reoffence rates and greater confidence of victims," Justice Minister Andrew Swan said in a news release issued late Wednesday afternoon.

Restorative justice refers to a variety of community-based restitution models where offenders pay for their crimes by performing community service, by repairing damage caused during an offence, for example, instead of going through the traditional court system with trials, lawyers and jail sentences. The proposed legislation notes that restorative justice could be especially useful in cases involving offenders with mental health conditions, addictions or other behavioural issues.

Court resources could then be used for cases that are more pressing to public safety and potentially assist in reducing pressures on correctional facilities, Swan said in the news release.

Studies have repeatedly identified overcrowding as an issue in correctional facilities and over-burdening of the justice system is a chronic complaint.

The new legislation, called the Restorative Justice Act, is set to include provisions for the use of community-based programs in cases that involve adults and youth. The act also establishes a Restorative Justice Advisory Council, which is intended to provide the justice minister with advice and expertise to develop more uses for such non-traditional models.

A range of similar programs are already in practice for adults and youth in Manitoba including:

  •  mediation services;
  • Onashowewin, a community-based, non-profit organization dedicated to establishing restorative and holistic approaches for achieving justice, taking into account the needs and strengths of the community;
  •  Salvation Army programs including the Positive Lifestyle Program, Anger Management Program, Domestic Violence Program, and John School;
  •  the Prostitution Diversion Program;
  •  FireStop; and
  •  community justice committees that work directly with offenders.

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