Restorative Justice can provide communities with a way of viewing incidents of harm or conflict as opportunities for dialogue.
Ideally this will lead to understanding, repair, and reconciliation, rather than to punishment and stigmatization.
Besides law enforcement agencies, other people, including schools, are increasingly using this approach to deal with problems that arise.
A 16-year-old girl phoned in two bomb threats to a local high school. This was not the first time the school had received bomb threats, and the principal decided not to evacuate. When confronted, the youth stated that she was bored and wanted to get out of class. She was suspended from school.
Everyone agreed to hold a community justice forum.
The girl was accompanied by both parents and a brother.
Also in attendance was the school principal, the superintendent of schools, the chairperson of the school discipline committee, the school’s guidance counsellor, the two secretaries who had answered the phone calls, and the investigating police officer.
The participants also decided to invite a younger student and his parents to discuss how the lockdown affected them.
The girl admitted the offense and added that she did not realize that her actions would have such serious consequences.
The secretaries talked about the effect that the threats had on them and their families. Both had been experiencing added stress and nightmares.
The principal talked about the emotional pain of being forced to make the difficult decision of whether to evacuate the school.
He related that in a previous evacuation some of the special needs children had been injured, and that his infant son had been attending the school daycare that day.
The younger student talked about how afraid he was as he hid under a table, and his parents shared how helpless they felt when their son called them on his cell phone to let them know what was happening.
The girl expressed deep feelings of shame and remorse for the harm she had caused, and forgiveness was expressed by the victims.
To make reparation, she agreed to work one hour a day with the special needs children for seven months until the end of the school year.
She further agreed to apologize in writing to the families of the principal and secretaries. In addition, she did research and prepared an essay about bomb victims with the assistance of the guidance counselor.
The girl was allowed to return to school and successfully completed the term as agreed.
She has since decided to make special education her career choice.
Richard Tarnoff is coordinator of the Boundary Restorative Justice Program. Assistance from the RCMP Crime Prevention Unit is gratefully acknowledged.