The Manitoba government's new strategy to modernize its criminal justice system promises an increased reliance on restorative justice.
Restorative justice methods seek to rehabilitate offenders through a process of reconciliation with the victims of their crimes, as well as with community more generally.
Advocates for the process say it can not only ease the burden on strained courts, but also reduce recidivism rates and give victims a sense of control over the justice process the traditional court system often lacks. What the restorative justice process looks like varies depending on the particular program, the desires of the victim, history of the perpetrator and nature of the crime. The Free Press spoke to a woman — who asked not to be named — currently going through a restorative justice program with Winnipeg-based Mediation Services.
In May 2017, a series of events led to a heated argument between the woman's son and husband. During the argument, her 24-year-old son (who has high-functioning autism) assaulted his father, which led to his arrest and removal from the home.
Prior to the incident, she said, her son had always held down a job and never had any run-ins with the law. She feels the reality of the crime — where the victim and perpetrator are close loved ones — places her in a relatively unique situation where she can see the benefits on both sides of the restorative justice program.
"My son isn't a criminal. He's not a bad guy. He's a person who made a mistake. I think everybody makes mistakes, some people's are just bigger. Not everyone gets caught for their mistakes either, but I believe everyone — particularly when they're young — does things they regret," she said.
Following her son's arrest, he was held in the Winnipeg Remand Centre for nine days, where she says other inmates used his autism against him in an attempt to con him. Since his release, he's been required by the courts to have no contact with his family, which means he's been removed from his support system, she said. It wasn't until the family recently entered into a restorative justice process that she and her husband have been able to see their son.
"The restorative justice process is more about asking, 'What happened? What impact did it have on everybody? Why did it happen? How can we move forward and make amends?' I'm not saying there should be no consequences. But sometimes there is no point in sticking people in jail or giving them a criminal record," she said.
"To put him in jail is not the right thing. What this kid needs is counselling. He needs a life coach. He needs some psychological help and counselling." She said she feels the restorative justice process has the added benefit of being much quicker than the traditional criminal court system.
"Everything takes so long in the courts. There's so much waiting. It's so long and drawn out and painful for everybody involved. Not only does the restorative justice process move quicker, but it gives people a chance to sit down together — if they want — rather than being on the opposite sides of the court room," she said. "It allows people to work toward a resolution and work towards an understanding of what happened and where to go from there."
— Ryan Thorpe