Back to Where We Started? The Expansion of the Saskatchewan Justice Alternative Measures Guidelines as an Opportunity to Explore Program Delivery Issues
Restorative justice was first used in Saskatchewan in 1985 and experienced a meteoric rise over the next two decades. In Saskatchewan, the use of restorative justice is not authorized for certain ‘serious’ offences, including sexual assault and family violence. While the overriding sense is that restorative justice programs have been successful, the momentum surrounding restorative justice has begun to taper off. Exploration into the use of restorative justice with more serious offences is being contemplated to combat the movement’s stagnation. Despite the rapid expansion of restorative justice agencies and organizations in Saskatchewan, little research has been conducted on these programs. In other jurisdictions, the research conducted has largely focused on program outcomes rather than the processes involved. There is also a gap in the research respecting how justice professionals view restorative justice and, in particular, how certain issues, such as safety and power imbalances, are currently addressed and will be addressed if more serious offences are referred to programs. To fill this gap, I conducted a qualitative study to determine how well those involved with Saskatchewan restorative justice programs, such as Crown prosecutors, police and program staff, believe programs are handling the offences currently referred. I also sought their views on the prospect of authorizing the use of restorative justice for more serious offences and what, if anything, must be changed in current programs to meet additional needs. The study revealed a mix of views across the professions, but generally justice professionals in Saskatchewan are resistant to the idea of referring more serious offences to restorative justice programs. Participation in a restorative justice process most deeply influenced views on whether restorative justice is appropriate for more serious offences. The concerns expressed about programs are poor practice or administrative in nature, and are fixable by employing best practices. A provincial strategic plan is needed for restorative justice to move forward. The plan should focus on determining clear goals and measures of success; committing to a set of best practices; more evaluation of programs and the effect of restorative justice on recidivism rates; expanded training for all justice professionals; and a greater investment in ensuring the ‘right’ person is in the room during restorative justice processes. The plan will gain the confidence of justice professionals, policy makers and the public in the ability of restorative justice to handle more serious offences.
restorative justice, alternative measures, Saskatchewan Justice
Master of Laws (LL.M.)