a case study
Fourteen-year-old Sam and a friend were seriously impaired after drinking a bottle of some 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 they were arrested.
The RCMP constable thought 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 process. The owner was very angry because Sam’s violation of the sanctity of his home had upset his pregnant partner so much that they refused to continue living there.
Sam had no idea of the effect of their actions on the owner and their partner, and it was important that they learn this. At the restorative justice conference, the neighbour described their partner's reaction to what Sam did, and this was very effective in bringing the message home. After some discussion, Sam agreed to pay for the damage to the bikes and to do 60 hours of community service to make some reparation for the harm they had done. The neighbour was satisfied with this outcome, and as it happens, the community service helped restore Sam’s self-esteem and their 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 they had caused and at the same time enhance their self-image and reinforce their sense of his place in the community.
The next year Sam got a job in the local supermarket where they were 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 they were able to make restitution for what they had done through community service and because their skills were well received by others. Meanwhile, the angry homeowner whose partner was terrorized by Sam’s act also was satisfied the process; while it couldn’t undo the harm that Sam had caused, it allowed Sam to show that they weres a good kid and worth the effort of going through the process. This is the kind of outcome that restorative justice seeks.