Today, CBC News reported that the Alberta Government has pulled Restorative Justice funding . I am beyond frustrated over this.

Where to start… there’s so much… commence rant:

Okay, for starters, let’s talk about the standard approach this government seems to take when belt-tightening measures are required. Yes, we have a deficit that needs to be addressed. Yes, trimming the fiscal fat is a pivotal piece of balancing the budget.  Perhaps the problem lies there: perhaps the current decision-makers are unable to distinguish between fat and muscle. I realize $351,000 the government will save by axing this program is nothing to sneeze at and that the SolGen budget is not as well padded as some other departments, but I’m talking about government priorities as a general rule.  It seems to me, from the outside looking in, that virtually every time cuts are meted out, we don’t see those cuts occurring at the top… you know, boards, bureaucracy,  bling… no, our leaders cut teachers, nurses, front line workers, and community programs. At the risk of mixing metaphors, it is so odd to me that government wants to improve the productivity of its systems but continuously cuts the feet off of those systems, and then can’t understand why things aren’t working.

It’s SO short-sighted! There is much data to support the notion that if you want to get the most bang for your tax buck, get as much money and as much autonomy as close to the ground as you can. The larger an organism (like government systems), the more expensive and less responsive it can be (especially without feet!) – there’s no way around that truth.

Secondly, how does this happen?? Where’s the process here? I didn’t hear one word that this was coming down the pipe during the budget process. And didn’t we just hear a rosy report from the Finance Minister, indicating that times are so good again that we’ll have that deficit licked in no time? Why then are we having to ax  programs without notice? When and how and by whose hand did this program get on the chopping block? Seems like either a knee-jerk reaction or just a good opportunity to nix a program identified as “fluff”.

Thirdly, this top-down leadership style has just GOT TO GO! Ideas, even good ideas, dreamed up and enacted without public input and involvement, are undemocratic. Community initiatives like Restorative Justice exist because people on the ground in communities drive them. Take away the capacity of a community to identify and address its own issues, and you take away the fundamental resiliency of that community.

Restorative Justice is a program that the community, for all intents and purposes, owns and drives. It is about the community coming together to deal with its own issues. In traditional justice, offenders go into the “system”.  They don’t have to face their victim, take responsibility, or make direct restitution in many cases. The victim, most often, is not afforded the opportunity to tell the offender how the crime impacted him or her. With Restorative Justice, the focus is on “restoration” . The victim gets a chance to face the offender, and the offender gets to face the victim. The offender has the opportunity to take responsibility. The two sides, through moderated discussion, determine what restitution and restorative measures will satisfy the crime. Once all is said and done, the victim is restored to feeling safe and protected in and by the community. The offender is restored as well, though – once he/she complete the agreed-upon restorative measures, he/she is an offender no more. That young person can then walk down the street in his or her community, head held high; restored. The community is robbed of this rich opportunity for cooperation, engagement, self-determination, and healing, once the system takes over. Not every crime is suitable for the Restorative Justice program, but when appropriate, it is a proven community builder and crime reducer.

I have personal experience with this program. A few years ago, two young ladies broke into our home and stole from me and from my step-daughter – jewelry, perfume, makeup, clothes. It didn’t take too many days, by working with the school and the RCMP, to identify the culprits. Familiar with Restorative Justice from my time in community development, I requested the program as an alternative to prosecution.

We had two sessions – one with each girl.  The first session did not go well. The offender had brought her mother for support, and both of them were very defensive. They minimized and deflected and tried to blame everyone else. However, in the end, the offender begrudgingly admitted her culpability and they agreed to the restorative measures we set out. The forum with the other offender, in contrast, was a breath of fresh air. This young lady took complete responsibility for her conduct, showed sincere remorse, and asked forgiveness. By way of restorative measure, we asked for our property back, and we asked that each girl write a well-researched essay, detailing the potential impact of having a criminal record versus experiencing restorative justice. The first young lady did not complete her restorative measures; we have heard reports that she has since gone on to more and bigger trouble. The second young lady really got it. Her essay clearly showed that she grasped the gift that was given to her. She is doing well in school and has not, to my knowledge, been in further scrapes with the law.

Traditional justice means there are such limited options for these types of issues. Either those young ladies get a “stern warning” and walk away, or they go into the system, where the offender and the victim never come to terms, and the offender ends up with a lifetime “brand”. There is no opportunity for a community response, a community solution. Traditional systemic justice means less accountability.

To many people, vindication comes in one form only: punishment. I, however,  feel much more vindicated – actually VALIDATED as a community member and leader – through being a fork in the road for two young ladies, and by the positive turn one took. She was – and is – completely worth it. I’m so grateful I had a community program through which I could point a young life in the right direction.

The current leadership does not appear to want your input or involvement, but we all need to step up and let them hear it anyway!

Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows I am not one to rail against the system. I am not here to tear down and oppose. I want to build, inspire, engage. But seriously, this is just wrong and I am really upset about it (could you tell!).

Thus endeth the rant. Your turn!