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Spring 2004 Edition

The Reporter

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Community Issues in Criminal Justice

"Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities".

Restorative Justice, the Community, and Charitable Organizations

Restorative Justice

The John Howard Society of Alberta has been reviewing developments in Restorative Justice (RJ) since the publication of its paper in 1997, available on the JHSA website. When this paper was published, the literature on RJ was fairly limited; now it can be described as voluminous. There are books, collections of papers, numerous articles, college and university courses, and several websites describing various aspects of RJ.

For readers unfamiliar with the term, Restorative Justice is a framework for understanding and responding to crime that balances the rights and concerns of crime victims, offenders and the community (Levinson). These three elements: crime victims, offenders and the community are generally regarded as the chief components of RJ (Zahr).

Based on our review of the literature, we believe that a fourth component in the RJ framework needs to be more clearly addressed, namely, the function and role of government (the state).

Offenders and Victims

There is considerable research on what should be done with offenders - whether they should be incarcerated, rehabilitated, receive special programming, released as early as possible to live in the community, among many other options.

In a forthcoming paper on Restorative Justice that will soon be available on our website, we trace the evolution of victims in the criminal justice system. Contrary to the conventional view, concerns about victims and their exclusion from the criminal justice process have a long history. We present five stages in their evolution:

  • First Stage: Ancient and Historical - Until the 14th century, victims traditionally negotiated some type of "restitution" directly from an offender. This practice changed as local feudal power was merged under a central authority, the king. As English common law developed, "restitution" on a very limited basis was provided to crime victims. These developments contributed towards the foundations of the current law on restitution in Canada (Virgo).
  • Second Stage: c1875-1954 - The first criminologists initially studied the criminal. Then their focus shifted to crime as a legal entity. Criminals and their crimes were subsequently viewed as more complex, and included the interactions of various parties e.g. the victim and offender, as well as contemporary values and norms in society.
  • Third Stage: 1955-1972 - English penal reformers promoted the idea that victims deserved more effective remedies than the traditional action provided through the law on torts. In the 1960s the first legislation offering recompense for victims came into effect in New Zealand, followed by England, California, New York, and Saskatchewan.
  • Fourth Stage: 1973-1997 – The modern roots of Restorative Justice began to evolve during this period. The Law Reform Commission of Canada and cost-sharing agreements between the Federal Government and the Provinces and Territories confirmed the need for criminal injury compensation programs. International conferences and symposia on "victimology" brought greater attention to the circumstances of victims of crime. Within Canada, court-based victim-offender mediation programs were introduced in Kitchener, Ontario, and later in Winnipeg. A flurry of activity followed in the 1980s and 1990s including the passage of a series of bills in Parliament and provincial legislatures regarding victims and their rights.
  • Fifth Stage: 1998 - the present – The interests of crime victims has become an integral part of federal, provincial and territorial, law enforcement, judicial, and other components of criminal justice.