Restorative Justice (RJ) recognizes that a crime causes harm to individuals and communities, and then asks how that harm can be addressed in a meaningful way. The RJ process brings together people connected to an offence – those who have been affected, those responsible for what happened, and those who can support a good outcome. The process considers the contexts, causes and circumstances of a crime in order to address the harm caused, identify needs and move forward in a better way.
RJ is a human-centered approach to justice that is based on the understanding that justice is about the way in which we relate to and treat one another. RJ is used to foster conditions for just relations between individuals, groups, communities and institutions in society.
The Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program (NSRJP) is a province-wide program which receives referrals for youth and adults who have come in conflict with the law. RJ is grounded in the following principles, which guide the development and implementation of the NSRJP:
- Relationally focused
- Comprehensive and holistic
- Inclusive and participatory
- Focused on promoting individual and collective accountability & responsibility
- Collaborative and non-adversarial
Respond to needs of individuals and communities affected by crime: With particular attention to the needs of victims and those harmed by crime (individuals and communities)
Harm reduction: reduce cycle of harm and injustice, prevent further harms to vulnerable individuals and communities and reduce over-representation of marginalized individuals in the justice system
Support individual and collective taking of responsibility for harm and public safety
Increase access to justice: more effective, timely, inclusive, equitable justice system
Provide responsive justice: human-centered justice processes that consider root causes and seek meaningful outcomes and responses
Increase public confidence and accountability in the administration of justice
Build and support healthy, safe and strong communities
The NSRJP is available to youth aged 12-17 and adults across the province.
Criminal Code and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act matters are eligible to be considered for referral by police, Crown, courts, corrections, and victim-serving agencies. Police, Crown, and corrections must consider all matters for referral, except where
- A provincial hold or moratorium is in place (there has been a moratorium in place on referrals to the NSRJP for intimate partner violence and sexual offences since 2000)
- Referral is otherwise barred by law
All matters can be referred at any stage in the criminal justice process. However, some will generally only be referred by the courts unless a case can be made (consistent with the principles, goals and objectives of the program) for earlier referral by the police or Crown. These matters include cases involving death, offences involving the abuse of a minor child, or serious crimes against the administration of justice.
Referrals can only be made where:
- The person referred fully and freely consents to participate
- The person has been advised of the right to be represented by counsel before consenting to participate
- The person accepts responsibility for the act or omission that forms the basis of the offence the person Is alleged to have committed
- There is, in the opinion of the attorney general or the attorney general’s agent, sufficient evidence to proceed with the prosecution of the offence, and the prosecution of the offence is not in any way barred at law
In considering whether to refer to restorative justice, system stakeholders will consider whether a referral will advance the goals and objectives of restorative justice, and, in particular, whether any of the following factors are significant in a case:
- Opportunity for more culturally appropriate, meaningful, and effective justice process
- Reduction of harm for direct parties (trauma informed)
- Potential for victim participation
- Enhanced opportunity for access to justice for affected communities— increased confidence in the administration of justice
- Opportunity to understand and consider root causes or systemic issues connected to the parties or offence
- Reduce over-representation in the justice system for individuals from vulnerable and marginalized communities/groups
- Access to better supports and wrap-around responses to parties’ needs
There are currently eight community-based restorative justice agencies in Nova Scotia authorized and funded by the province to deliver the NSRJP. They also play an essential role as community partners in the development, governance, and oversight of the NSRJP. They are located in and serve the regions surrounding Yarmouth, Bridgewater, Halifax, Kentville, Truro, New Glasgow, Amherst, and Sydney.
Community Corrections staff (probation officers) collaborate within the restorative justice regional teams and with restorative justice agency staff to deliver restorative justice processes to adults.
Referrals involving individuals who identify as indigenous must first be considered for referral to the Customary Law program offered by MLSN. If the matter is determined by MLSN not to be appropriate for resolution under customary law, then a referral may be made to the NSRJP.
The RJ process is flexible depending on the circumstances and needs of each case. The process is always informed by and shaped according to the NSRJP principles. Generally, there are three elements:
1. Preparation and Support: In this stage, a RJ Facilitator connects with you to explain the process, provide information about the offence and program, and hear about how the crime affected you. You can discuss what happened, what matters about what happened and explore choices and options for what needs to happen next.
2. Restorative Circles: Circles bring together those involved and affected by a crime in order to build understanding about what happened. Through facilitated dialogue, participants share their stories, the impacts of the offence and their needs moving forward. Session participants create a plan for what needs to happen to support a better way forward.
3. Plan, Follow-Up, Supervision and Support: After a plan is created, the RJ Facilitator follows up with the agreed upon commitments and provides continued support, supervision and information to all parties as needed. This plan may include a reconvening of parties or how to respond if there are issues with fulfilling the plan.
Restorative Circles are flexible in nature and participants can include those who have been harmed or affected, those responsible for those harms and those who can offer support to the process. Trained facilitators guide the process and create a safe space for respectful, collaborative and non-adversarial dialogue.
The goal of a session is to come together to understand and talk about what happened, what matters about what happened and what needs to happen to ensure a just outcome and healthy relations in the future. This involves the individual who caused harm taking responsibility and accountability for their actions. Circles generally result in plans in which those responsible agree to take actions to address the harm caused by the crime.
Plans for the future aim to address the issues, harms and needs of those involved while supporting safe and healthy relationships. These plans often include commitments or actions to be completed by individuals responsible for harm and/or other participants.
Generally, restorative plans can include: meaningful consequences or actions to repair the harm done to those impacted or the community, plans for those who have offended to make measurable life changes, and plans to support the individual responsible to carry out those obligations.
Plans vary depending on the circumstances of each case and are developed collaboratively through meaningful input from all impacted parties and those who can support the way forward.
There is a common misconception that RJ allows a person to “get away with” a crime, or may be “soft on crime.” RJ is simply a different pathway to justice than the mainstream criminal justice system. While they are different, many RJ programs have learned much from Indigenous legal traditions, which predate the mainstream justice system and have been used to resolve disputes for thousands of years. Rather than imposing a specific punishment or focusing on punitive consequences, RJ actively works to prevent further harm by encouraging and promoting meaningful individual and collective responsibility.
Restorative approaches to justice are rooted in community and engage those impacted and those with a stake in the outcome as active participants. Participants are directly involved in planning and action to address the harm and restore safety. RJ processes center the needs of participants in order to chart a better way forward. For the person responsible, participating in RJ demands an acknowledgement of responsibility for the harms caused, and deliberate reflection and learning.
A restorative response shifts away from shame and blame and instead focuses on addressing harms and their root causes to prevent them from happening again. RJ is ultimately aimed at making and supporting plans for the future that support safe and healthy relationships and communities.
There is no obligation to participate, however, as someone directly harmed or impacted by an offence, you will be supported to explore participation in the RJ process if you choose. A caseworker or RJ probation officer can provide you with support and information to help you determine the extent of your involvement or participation (if any).
There are many ways to participate. During the preparation phase, a caseworker or RJ probation officer helps you make an informed decision about participation, with attention to your safety and wellbeing. It is okay if you are unsure if or how you want to participate, or to change your mind. You have the option to withdraw from participating at any time.
Some examples of how you could participate include:
- Receive updates and information about your case
- Learn about additional resources in your community
- Participate in the preparation and/or follow-up phase only
- Suggest ideas regarding the action plan or outcome
- Select another individual (NSRJP staff, support person, volunteer, etc.) to share your experience or ask questions on your behalf at a session
- Write down or document your experience to be shared on your behalf at a session
- Engage in indirect dialogue with the individual responsible through a caseworker or RJ probation officer
- Attend part or all of a circle (circles could include many participants who can support a way forward, and may or may not include the person responsible for harm)
No. Although restorative processes can bring parties together in dialogue, there is never an obligation to meet with the individual who has caused harm face-to-face or to communicate directly with them. This does not preclude you from taking an active role in the process. Regardless of whether you choose to participate, NSRJP staff and volunteers will work with the individual responsible to promote meaningful accountability and responsibility.
Crime affects everyone differently. The RJ process aims to respond to the specific needs of each individual in a meaningful way.
For some, RJ allows for meaningful and active participation; it is a chance to have their voice and needs heard, and to share their story and what matters to them. Some people participate to have a say in the plan moving forward, or to make requests for reparation or restitution. Others participate to ask questions to those who have harmed them about what happened, why it happened and what is going to happen next.
RJ may assist those affected by crime with opportunities for connection, validation, choices and increased feelings of safety. For many, the process provides a supportive environment where both the individual who has offended and the community can come to understand the gravity of the harm that has occurred. The process can also be helpful to obtain information about what is happening in the case or to learn about other available resources in the community.
RJ is a voluntary process for individuals accused of an offence. The program provides an opportunity to address the harm they have caused and take meaningful accountability for their actions. Through the process, they are encouraged to reflect on the circumstances contributing to their offence and are supported to make positive life changes. The process can encourage those who have done wrong to make amends to those they have harmed and allow them to try and make things better. Often, the process can help them to contribute positively to their community.
In some cases, successful completion can also mean that the person responsible does not have a criminal conviction for the referred offence.
Please reach out to South Shore Community Justice directly:
Executive Director, Nicolle Lovett