This week’s story is from Kitchener, Ontario. It illustrates how creating a dialogue between offenders and victims can lead to a resolution that helps both parties.
A youth charged with vandalism because he spray painted “art” on the exterior wall of a local “burger joint” sits across from two mediators telling them his side of the story. It was late at night, and he and his friend found a few cans of spray paint on the ground. As they walked around town they came across a building and decided to “decorate” it. But, things did not turn out well. The youth describes being caught, the shame of police coming to his house, the look on his parents’ faces when he is arrested and the humiliation experienced by his family. He takes responsibility, but is worried that he has no money to pay for the damages.
In Canadian criminal legislation, the Youth Criminal Justice Act allows young people between the age of 12 and 17, where appropriate, to be diverted from a court process towards a restorative justice program in the community. This is not about minimizing what was done; rather it acknowledges the harm done and allows for direct responsibility.
The owner of the restaurant is upset and wants answers, “Why my business? What kind of parents does this kid have?” He explains through gritted teeth that his employees have to work twice as hard when something like this occurs. First they have to clean up the graffiti, and then they have to prepare for customers. It’s not the first time something like this has happened and these kinds of acts put the viability of his business at risk.
The day comes for the two parties to meet and mediators believe it will be safe and helpful for all involved. The victim, the offender and two mediators sit at a picnic table outside the restaurant. The owner explains how this crime impacted his business and staff and each side tells their story. After much discussion, the conversation moves toward restitution. Some possibilities emerge: the youth could get a part time job or borrow money from his parents. The owner, silent for a time, makes a suggestion, why doesn’t the youth work for him at the restaurant to repay his debt? Then, if he does a good job, he can continue his employment and stay out of trouble.
Richard Tarnoff is coordinator of the Boundary Restorative Justice Program. Assistance from the Independent Academic Research Studies program, UK, is gratefully acknowledged. Trail is served by the Greater Trail Community Justice Program. Visit their website www.greatertrailcommunityjustice.com.