Recommended Principles and Standards for Restorative Justice Providers in Criminal Matters

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During 2015-2016, CJI was in collaboration with community agencies and practitioners across BC toward the development of shared practice standards within the field of restorative justice. The interagency working group involved in facilitating this project (named below), produced a document entitled, Recommended Principles and Standards for Restorative Justice in Criminal Matters. 

We hope this document will serve as a beneficial resource for the advancement of ethical restorative justice practice in this province.

FAQ:

Why did we embark on this project?

British Columbia is recognized internationally as a leader in restorative justice (RJ) practice. Still, many around the province sense that our potential as a field has yet to be fully realized. Funding and/or referrals continue to present significant challenges for many programs and agencies, and there are wide arenas within the criminal justice system where restorative justice approaches remain at the margins. We believe restorative justice advocates must engage with and address these and other challenges, and the reasons behind them, if our work is to move toward its full potential. 

Over the past two years, many within B.C.’s restorative justice community have been fortunate to be part of a listening and engagement processes involving stakeholders and referral sources, and to actively inquire into the opportunities and barriers facing restorative justice at this juncture. A strong theme was identified as an opportunity for growth: the development of consistent standards of practice to which restorative justice providers adhere in their service to participants, and particularly victims of crime.

For example, in Vancouver on May 27 -28, 2014, the B.C. Ministry of Justice convened a symposium titled “Creativity and Caution: Exploring Appropriate Frameworks for Serving Victims within RJ Processes in BC.” One of the outcomes was the identification of a number of barriers to building a strong relationship between Victim Services (VS) and RJ groups. One important theme summarized in the symposium report is an indication that some victim service providers lack assurance that restorative justice programs provide consistent, quality service in support of victims. Victim Services groups conveyed a concern that some RJ programs may be “underdeveloped and lacking in resources to ensure volunteers and/or staff have the appropriate training and capacity to work with victims” (Dhasi, 2014).

Similarly, the Report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Crime Reduction (Daryl Plecas et al., BC Ministry of Justice, 2014) recommends: “Make greater use of restorative justice. In his report to the Minister of Justice, Geoffrey Cowper recommended that the government develop a province-wide plan for diversion, including restorative justice, along with education, quality assurance and control, performance measures, reporting and evaluation. The Panel reiterates that recommendation and urges the Province to consider making greater use of restorative justice (RJ) in particular” (pg. 12). Elsewhere the report states, “Successful [RJ] programs are in place in a number of communities. However, many stakeholders said that the quality of programs across the province varies and could be improved with, for example, provincial standards” (pg. 5).

Based on such findings, in 2015 a provincial working group of restorative justice providers secured funding through the Ministry of Justice, Province of British Columbia, through civil forfeiture proceeds, to explore victim-sensitive standards in restorative justice. The aim of the working group was to help pave the way for strengthened relationships between restorative justice and its participants; as well as with victim service providers and other referral sources and stakeholders.

We hope that this process will have long-term positive impacts in a variety of areas, including restorative justice funding and referrals. No less importantly, we hope that this initiative will provide an opportunity for those within the restorative justice community to engage in sustained and constructive dialogue about effective practices, with an end goal of enhancing our services to better meet the needs of victims and others involved in restorative justice approaches in B.C.

What was the process of writing these recommendations?

The project had 5 stages: 

     1. Listening and Engagement: Through focus groups and individual interviews, a province-wide listening and engagement process was undertaken to gather information from key stakeholders to inform the development of recommended principles and standards. Approximately 150 restorative justice practitioners and program leaders were consulted during focus groups, while online surveys were distributed widely across the province.

     2. Research: The working group undertook a research project to review RJ guidelines and standards from other jurisdictions within Canada and internationally, and review similar data within similar professional networks.  

     3. Draft Recommendations: The working group produced a draft report outlining the findings of our engagement and research, and recommending specific standards of practice.

     4. Pilot Study: Based on geographical, demographic, size and other criteria, the working group approached four restorative justice provider groups to invite their participation in a pilot study. Each group went through a process of implementing the recommended standards within their agency.

     5. Final Recommendations: Based on feedback from the pilot groups, the working group refined the recommendations and produced the attached ‘final’ copy.

How were crime victims and victim services engaged?

Two focus groups engaged crime victims and victim service providers from across BC, and written surveys were distributed to all participants of the 2015 Police Victim Services of British Columbia Annual Symposium. 

Were both aboriginal and non-aboriginal justice providers consulted?

Yes. Early in the project, the working group members (all serving primarily non-aboriginal communities) reached out through existing networks to a cross-section of aboriginal justice providers throughout the province. The feedback we received suggested that the type and level of need for a project of this nature within Aboriginal Justice Strategy (AJS) oriented programs differed from CAP programs. While we hope and believe that the Principles and Standards produced will enhance cultural responsiveness in RJ practice, and be useful to people across cultures, the target audience is primarily non-aboriginal programs. This said, specific AJS programs took a strong interest in the project, and consulted with the working group in depth on the contents.

Why the language of “Standards?”

For some, the word “standards” is associated with hierarchical decision-making structures, bureaucracy, and even punitive sanctions. Perhaps out of such fears, it is much more common to see RJ literature on “Guiding Principles,” “Best Practices,” or other terms. The language of “standards” was chosen for this initiative for two reasons:

By definition, “standards” are measurable – whereas principles are not. The working group concluded measurability would be desirable for those choosing to implement the standards as a means of gauging their impact.

Feedback from participants in RJ, especially crime victims, suggested that the measurability and formality of “standards” instilled a greater sense of assurance and safety for them than other similar concepts and terminology. 

I would like to implement these standards in my organization. How can I do that?

The standards are designed to promote flexibility in how they are implemented within organizations. As programs work to implement and measure the standards, we hope that they will be willing to share their efforts and learning with others. While there is currently no established mechanism for this type of information sharing, we hope that such a process can be developed and we welcome your creative ideas. The working group has developed a basic tool for beginning the implementation process, which was discussed at the webinar. For those who would like more information on that, please be in touch with me.

We welcome feedback. If you would like to share your thoughts on this document or how it may be used, please contact Aaron Lyons at aaronlyons@cjibc.org.

The 2015-2016 Working Group on Restorative Justice Standards:

Aaron Lyons and Christianne Paras, Fraser Region Community Justice Initiatives

Alana Abramson, Criminology Department, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Gillian Lindquist and Shanna Grant-Warmald, Restorative Justice Victoria

Joanne Field, Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association

Terri Kalaski, South Okanagan Restorative Justice/Terri L. Kalaski and Associates


This on-line publication is now available to download free of charge. 

CLICK HERE to download the pdf version. 

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Community Justice Initiatives Association

mail@cjibc.org