JHS of Alberta The Reporter Community Conferencing Project

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Community Conferencing Project

John Howard Society of Calgary

The Calgary John Howard Society, in conjunction with the City of Calgary Youth Probation Services, Mennonite Central Committee; Calgary Police Service, Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Family Services, has embarked on a Community Conferencing Project.

The Project has 3 components: court, schools and residential/treatment. The Court component has been in operation since April 1998, with the aim of providing alternative sentencing for young offenders who are prepared to take responsibility for their actions. The Residential/Treatment component is currently under development.

The School component is a 1-year pilot project that will begin operation in 4 to 5 Calgary area schools in September, 1999. The aims of this component are to decrease suspensions and expulsions in participating junior-high school, decrease the incidence of criminal charges, and reconcile harmful incidences as soon as possible.

Community Conferencing recognizes the need for intervention to reconcile conflicts in a timely and effective manner. It incorporates a restorative justice model that recognizes that crime is a violation of people and is a community responsibility. Harm must be repaired and communities restored to an environment of safety. The integral members to the resolution of conflict include the victims, offenders and the community.

The key to community conferencing is to hold young people accountable for their actions and to make right any harm caused. Victims are involved in setting appropriate consequences and young people are provided with the opportunity to see the impact of their actions on others, with the hope that this will create understanding and prevent the young person from commiting that type of crime in the future.

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The Community Conferencing Project is similar to the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) that has been in operation for almost 15 years. The two programs are based on the same principles, but the conferencing model involves the victim, the offender, and the family and supports of the offender. Every person affected by the crime has the opportunity to be involved in the conference.

The Calgary Police Service has used similar methods in elementary and junior-high schools since early 1998. Over 100 informal conferences have been completed and anecdotal data suggests that none of the young people who have participated in the conferences have been charged with subsequent offences. The Community Conferencing Project partnership was formed because the Calgary Police Service was not equipped to deal with the organization and facilitation of formal conferences. The creation of the Community Conferencing Project will ensure that conferences will be more in-depth, and will be perceived as more neutral when not delivered solely by the Calgary Police Service. Within a few months volunteers, following a mentorship program with one of the current facilitators, will facilitate conferences.

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