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An Introduction to the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program (NSRJP)
Janet Briggs, Manager, NSRJ Program

Posted 2011-06-14

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Restorative justice is not a particular practice or type of program, but rather a philosophy, or a set of principles.  Restorative justice principles have been emerging in communities across the world. The Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program (NSRJP), over the past decade has gained attention as a national and world-class leader through its innovative and progressive model. The Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program is not intended to replace the current criminal justice system. Restorative justice offers a more demanding, active, and clear opportunity for offenders to be held directly accountable to the victim and the community they have harmed. Rather than being soft on crime, restorative justice requires the offender to behave more responsibly by making amends to the victim and community.

In the summer of 1997 a multi-disciplinary Steering Committee was struck by the Nova Scotia Department of Justice to develop a system-wide Restorative Justice Initiative for Nova Scotia. In September 1997, the Steering Committee hosted a one-day symposium on the future of restorative justice in this Province. It was attended by key individuals from all components of the criminal justice system. The hallmark recommendation coming out of this symposium was that individual communities should be empowered to shape the delivery of restorative justice. This was a recognition that while government has a leadership role to play in areas such as establishing a legal framework for the programs, enabling community-based programs, initiating interest, setting standards, and monitoring progress, government cannot create and run restorative justice programs in every community. The NSRJP is successful because of its conviction that for a restorative justice program to be truly effective, it needs to be flexible enough to meet the specific needs of many different offenders, victims and communities.

In 1999 the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program was implemented after two years of pre-implementation planning. The intention was to insert a restorative approach throughout the criminal justice system (CJS), based on the conviction that restorative justice, in some modality, should be applicable to all offenders and all offences throughout the province. Since its inception the Program has steadfastly advanced its commitment.

The Department of Justice has service agreements with a network of eight non-profit community justice agencies and one tribal organization which offer services specifically for Aboriginal youth. These community justice agencies deliver the Restorative Justice Program and Community Service Order Program services, embedding the Program in the community and bringing the voice of the wider community into the process. The agencies, each with a mix of paid staff and volunteers, are funded by the office of the NSRJ Manager which also supports training, protocol development and administrative oversight. Close linkages are also in place between the NSRJ Manager and the local agencies and their boards via standardized protocols and guidelines and a provincially-managed Restorative Justice Information System (RJIS) to which all referral and case management data are inputted and from which a variety of reports are regularly issued.

The NSRJP as a component of the Nova Scotia Department of Justice is committed to improving the delivery of justice services. It recognizes that holding offenders accountable, and giving victims and communities a voice in the response to crime will result in a decrease in recidivism rates, and an increase in victim satisfaction. The community-based nature of the Program enhances the sense of safety felt by those living in the community. NSRJP offers opportunities for justice agencies and communities to work together in partnership. The success of this partnership is based upon a system-wide approach, one which makes possible a wide range of alternatives, at various points in the system, across all of Nova Scotia.

Restorative processes can be relevant responses to any offence. Referrals to the NSRJ Program follow two principles: the referral of more serious offences must pass to higher entry point, where the level of public scrutiny and control of the Criminal Justice system is stronger; and referrals can be made at four key entry points in the Criminal Justice process: Pre Charge (Police Entry Point); Post Charge (Crown Entry Point); Post Finding of Guilt (Court Entry Point); Post Sentence (Corrections Entry Point). (The Department of Justice a moratorium has been in place since 2000 on the referral of and sexual offences and partner violence linked offences.)

The Program has had the advantage of a strong evaluation component with the assistance of well known academic and researcher Don Clairmont, Director of the Atlantic Institute of Criminology. An evaluation of the NSRJ initial success with youth showed the following: “victims who have participated in RJ Sessions are very positive; victims feel heard and attended to in the RJ Process; youth, community members involved in RJ processes feel positive about the experience; and RJ has gained acceptance as a justice strategy among CJS Stakeholders”.   Thanks to the commitment of stakeholders and our Community Justice Societies approximately 1400 – 1600 referrals a year are processed, a range of innovative programs to support the RJ interventions are offered province wide, with compliance rates in the range of 88 – 92 percent. The outcome of high participant engagement and satisfaction is a telling indicator of the success of the programs’ model.

Momentum and interest in restorative principles across Nova Scotia has been at a steady increase since Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program started in the late 1990s. After successful 10 years with youth in conflict we are expanding and broadening use of RJ to proactive, crime prevention initiatives. A variety of innovative pilot programs using restorative justice principles with all ages and multiple cultural backgrounds have been developed and tested by the RJ agencies. The pilots demonstrated the effectiveness of  restorative approaches with youth under twelve years of age and with diverse cultures and high risk youth. Recent initiatives and events also include collaborating with our education partners to expand the use of restorative approaches in schools. Plans are underway to employ restorative principles in schools province wide. Within Correctional Services, the provincial youth facility is exploring the opportunity to introduce the use of restorative principles within one of its living units known as cottages. Recent progress has also been made in collaborating with community and government partners and stakeholders in introducing the use of restorative justice principles as an effective and meaning intervention for incidents of elder abuse. NSRJP has enjoyed its partnership with NSRJ CURA over the past five years. The NSRJ-CURA is an alliance of Community and University researchers and organizations focused on research related to the institutionalization of restorative justice. The findings of the research projects undertaken by NSRJ CURA, will soon be released and will continue to advance the study and implementation of Restorative Justice into the future.   

In February of this year NSRJP began accepting the referral of adult offenders as part of a two year pilot program. The pilot is an integrated program with Community Corrections probation staff working closely with the RJ agencies and other stakeholders in the System. The pilot is being offered in the eastern and central part of the province, with the anticipation of the program being offered province wide within the next 18 month. We have again been fortunate enough to secure the assistance of Don Clairmont for the ongoing evaluation of the pilot. The findings will allow the NSRJ Program to make timely and informed decisions as the Program moves into another period of advancement

In a short period of time the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program has evolved into a world-class leader in the field of restorative justice through its comprehensive, multi-disciplinary, multi-departmental, and multi-governmental strategic approach.