Fourteen-year-old Sam and his girlfriend were seriously impaired after drinking a bottle of his father’s homemade wine. Around 1:30 in the morning, they stole two bikes from the front deck of a neighbour’s house and went for a joy ride that ended with the bikes in a nearby creek. An RCMP constable found evidence that implicated Sam and he was arrested.
The RCMP constable felt that this was a good case to refer to the restorative justice program, and the owner of the bicycles reluctantly agreed to go through the RJ conference process. He was very angry because Sam’s violation of the sanctity of his home had upset his pregnant wife so much that she refused to continue living there.
Sam had no idea of this repercussion of his actions, and it was important that he learn this. At the restorative justice conference, the neighbour described his wife’s reaction to what Sam did, and this was very effective in bringing the message home.
After some discussion, Sam agreed topy for the damage to the bikes and to do 60 hours of community service to make some reparation for the harm he had done. The neighbour was satisfied with this outcome, and as it happens, the community service helped restore Sam’s self-esteem and his place in the local community.
Rather than being punished and disgraced by the retributive justice of the courts, Sam was able both to make a public contribution to repair the damage he had caused and at the same time to enhance his self-image and to reinforce his sense of his place in the community.
The next year Sam got a job in the local supermarket where he was able to look community members in the eye and to interact with them in a friendly way without shame or embarrassment. Sam found the restorative justice process rewarding because he was able to make restitution for what he had done through community service and because he and his skills were well received by others. Meanwhile, the angry homeowner whose wife was terrorized by Sam’s act also felt good about the process; while it couldn’t undo the harm that Sam had caused, it allowed Sam to show that he was a good kid and worth the effort of going through the process. This is the kind of outcome that restorative justice seeks.