Dr. Evelyn Zellerer is a criminologist specializing in restorative justice. She teaches part-time at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in greater Vancouver and is a restorative facilitator, trainer and consultant. She has done extensive work in a variety of settings on how to respond to conflict, crime and disorder with restorative methods. She sent this blog entry about the Vancouver riots.
I, like most others, was horrified by the Vancouver hockey riots last week. How should we respond? What is the healthiest way for us to move forward?
It’s time cities like Vancouver used restorative justice to meet the needs of victims, hold offenders accountable, support healing, and build community.
A recent Globe and Mail editorial describes one attempt to hold people accountable.
Vigilante justice is not the answer. Martin Luther King said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars”.
Criminal justice is another option, but what happens after police make arrests? Those who rioted are charged. Their crimes become against the state and lawyers and judges take over. An already overburdened court gets more cases. There is a battle between the prosecutors and defence. Plea bargaining will occur. There are few sentencing options: fines, probation, community service, or prison.
Criminal justice “success” means spending taxpayer’s dollars locking people up. Is this justice, healing and resolution? I don’t think so.
Have we and the offenders learned anything? Given the high rates of prison violence and reoffending, it seems not. In criminal justice victims are excluded, except as witnesses. And the community doesn’t have a place.
There is another option: Restorative Justice. Here, crime is a violation of people and relationships, not the state. All parties come together to understand what happened and determine how to respond, how to make things right.
Victims tell their offenders what they feel and need. Offenders face their victims and community. Offenders come to see the impact of their actions, make amends, and learn things of value. The community finds out what offenders need to be non-violent, healthy, contributing citizens. Offenders are a part of our community too. Even if they go to prison, they will return. There is no enemy. It’s only us.
Restorative justice is not soft on crime. For many, the hardest thing is to face those you harmed and sit alongside your family, peers and community to determine consequences. Restorative justice works with all kinds of conflict, including serious crimes like assault.
It is easy to punish people and think this solves things. Even in a riot…it doesn’t.