Restorative justice on the rise

November 18, 2004, vol. 31, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl

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Restorative justice is an old concept with new relevance as those touched by crime increasingly look for alternative solutions.

Since opening two years ago, the centre for restorative justice housed at SFU in the school of criminology has become a well-established resource for researchers, community advocates, students, and those affected by crime. Centre coordinator Meredith Egan says interest in healing and non-retaliatory responses to violence is on the rise.

“Whenever the issue is raised in the media we get a rush of calls and queries,” says Egan, noting that the current system, by nature, can't fully take victims' needs into account or make them central to the justice process.

“There is a lot of pain and trauma caused by crime, and that prompts a real need to explore restorative approaches as an alternative to dealing with criminal conflict,” she adds, “especially when the result can be more healing and empowering for everyone involved.”

Rooted in many traditions, including aboriginal healing traditions, Meredith says restorative justice works to enable victims, offenders and their communities to participate in devising mutually beneficial solutions, focusing on “putting things as right as possible in the aftermath of harm.”

Conflicts are resolved in ways that encourage accountability and reparation, promote harmony in the community members' relationships, and allow people to continue to live together in a safer, healthier environment.

Funded in part by the Correctional Service of Canada, the centre offers a range of services including on-site and online resources, research support and community outreach activities.

It will reap benefits from the school of criminology's acquisition of Jane Miller-Ashton, most recently the head of the restorative justice and dispute resolution branch at Correctional Service of Canada headquarters in Ottawa. Miller-Ashton will be at SFU for the next three years as a visiting fellow through the federal government's Interchange Canada program. She will develop and teach corrections-related and restorative justice courses and conduct research.

For several years her focus has been on creating healing and reparative opportunities for victims and offenders affected by serious crime, promoting restorative alternatives in prison environments and contributing to criminal justice reform.

Miller-Ashton, who completed a master of arts degree in criminology at the University of Ottawa, has spent three decades involved in justice-related work.

Her lifelong passion for social justice issues will be an asset to the centre as well as students, says Egan. “We will all gain from her vast expertise,” she notes.

As part of Restorative Justice Week (Nov. 14-21) the centre hosted the David and Cecilia Ting forum on justice policy at SFU's Wosk centre for dialogue. It featured Linda Mills, a professor of social work at New York University, and author of Insult to Injury: Rethinking Our Responses to Initiate Abuse; Sandy Bryce, manager of the victims services and family violence prevention unit for the Yukon; and Tracy-Anne McPhee, a Whitehorse lawyer.

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