By Kate Partrige, CFUR, 88.7 FM, Prince George, Local Journalism Initiative
The Community Policing arm of the Prince George RCMP is seeking to expand interest and awareness about it’s restorative justice program among RCMP officers, community partners, and the public. In 2020, the Prince George RCMP responded to more than 46,000 files but only a handful of them, a maximum of 60, make their way to the restorative justice department each year. Linda Parker, Community Policing Coordinator, says she is “ongoing struggle to encourage more file referrals” from RCMP members.
With an extremely small budget and reliant on a team of committed volunteers, Parker is cautious of expanding the workload too quickly due to the limited resources at her disposal. “It’s a lot of work to process a file”, she says, as the collaboration requires coordinating multiple schedules, accommodating different priorities, and committing to ensure compliance with the agreements set in the restorative justice process through follow up appointments.
But the pay off for taxpayers of expanding restorative practice could be significant. In 2008, the Department of Justice Canada reported the “costs pertaining to the Canadian criminal justice system… amounted to about $15.0 billion for policing, court, prosecution, legal aid, correctional services and mental health review boards” with about a third of that amount spent on corrections and the courts. In 2020, the City of Prince George spent $27.150 million on the RCMP, the biggest single line item at 24.5% of the overall budget, according to the Citizen Budget 2021 survey. Restorative justice provides a potential alternative to these sizable costs.
The positive impact on the individuals involved, both victims and offenders, is often tangible. With a focus on inclusion of all parties and addressing root causes of anti-social behaviour, Parker calls it “an ideal method of dealing with conflict or criminal incidence”. For many, once they are brought in to a negative relationship with the criminal justice system, it can be hard to get out. “Ideally recidivism is reduced through efficient restorative justice”, says Parker, but first offenders must find their way to the services. Parker and her team of volunteers, in partnership with the Prince George Urban Aboriginal Justice Society, are always looking for “creative ways” of promoting restorative practice in the community.
Top photo credit: The Restorative Justice program began in 2015, with a small and committed team of volunteers. Photo courtesy of Linda Parker.