Information For Offenders
You might be concerned that the phrase “victim-centred” means that your needs may be overlooked in a restorative justice process. Not true! Our job is to address the needs of everyone who enters our program, and to work with everyone who is participating to provide a safe environment in which to communicate. In restorative justice, we recognize that, as the person who has caused harm – to the victim, to the victim’s community, to your community, and possibly even to yourself – you are now in an uncomfortable place, and perhaps are feeling badly about what you have done. Your participation in restorative justice creates a unique opportunity for you to work to understand the impact of your actions on the victim and others who were affected by your crime and try to make things right with the people you have hurt. By responding to the harms that resulted from your crime, you can help people who have been impacted by your crime and demonstrate that you want to move away from behaviours that hurt others.
Below you will find common questions that those who have committed an offence have about our work. We’ve done our best to provide thorough information on our approach and what to expect. If you don’t find the information you’re looking for here, please reach out to us.
Restorative justice has many definitions and there is a lot of diversity in how it’s understood and practiced around the world. We use this definition by Howard Zehr: “Restorative justice is an approach to achieving justice that involves, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offence or harm to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations in order to heal and put things as right as possible.”
Here at Restorative Justice Victoria (RJV), we work towards five main goals:
- Assisting and supporting victims in identifying and seeking redress for the harms and needs they have experienced resulting from crime.
- Providing meaningful and helpful support to victims in their healing and recovery from crime.
- Creating opportunities for offenders to accept and demonstrate accountability for the harms they have caused to victims and the community.
- Providing safe and effective opportunities for the sharing of information and communication (direct or indirect) between victims, offenders, and others impacted by crime.
- Assisting and supporting all participants in understanding the causes of a crime, such as trauma, mental health, addictions, and structural/social factors, and supporting offenders in addressing these when possible.
There are many myths and misconceptions about restorative justice. To learn more about them and get further clarity on what restorative justice is and is not, visit our myths and misconceptions page.
For a file to be referred to us, you and the victim must consent and you, as the offender, must take responsibility for the offence and be willing to understand and work towards addressing the harms that have resulted from it. We understand this can be challenging for a number of reasons and are here to support you if you are willing to work towards these goals.
Restorative justice can be used as diversion from or in conjunction with the criminal justice system. It can also be used outside of the criminal justice system, such as after an offender has completed their sentence. In some cases, restorative justice is used instead of the justice system.
We accept cases from a variety of sources. Most come through the criminal justice system from police, Crown, judges, and probation officers. We also get cases from schools and members of the community who self-refer.
If you or someone you know has committed an offence and are interested in exploring restorative justice, you can contact us directly and we can speak to you about the process and the possibility of having the matter referred.
Restorative justice is only appropriate for cases where the person who committed the offence accepts responsibility for the offence. If you’ve been accused of a crime you didn’t commit, or if you believe you have a legal defence for the crime (e.g. self-defence), our services are not appropriate for the case. Restorative justice is focused on repairing the harms that result from crime. Therefore, the person who caused the harm must be accountable and be willing to try making things right. Because of this, it’s only relevant to situations where someone acknowledges wrongdoing. If you did not commit the crime for which you were referred, or believe you were legally justified in committing it, we will return your file to the referring agency. RJV has no control over what happens to your file once it’s returned.
Once you reach 12 years of age, in Canada you can be held criminally responsible for your actions. Therefore, if you are 12 or older, you also have the legal right to decide how you want to deal with an offence that you are being held responsible for committing, including whether you want it dealt with in restorative justice. Nobody else can make that decision for you. If you are under 18, your parent/guardian have the right to know that you have been referred to our program and some other general information such as meeting times and dates, and who you will be working with. However, you also have the right to privacy within restorative justice, meaning what you share with us won’t be shared with anyone else without your consent, unless something makes us concerned for your wellbeing or safety. More information on your rights is available here and in the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Restorative justice is voluntary for everyone, therefore, there are some instances where an offender is interested but the victim is not. For a matter to be referred from the criminal justice system, the victim must give their permission. However, they don’t have to participate in the process if they do not want to. Given this, we have some cases where the victim has consented to restorative justice, but we work only with the offender. In those instances, we have surrogate victims and/or community members meet with you to assist you in understanding the consequences and harms that can result from your type of offence. In some instances, the victim may choose to participate in ways other than meeting you in person. For example, we might facilitate letter writing or video sharing between you, or the victim might send someone on their behalf to meet with you.
No, restorative justice is not mandatory; a crucial aspect of our program is that participation must be voluntary for everyone. If you are offered the option of restorative justice and you are not interested, you can decline. The only exception is if you are court-mandated to participate, but this is rare because most judges understand how important voluntariness is to the success of the process. If you are interested in restorative justice but want more information, you can reach out to us directly. We can discuss your case with you and provide any information you require to make a decision. We always encourage people to seek legal advice as well to know whether restorative justice is a good fit for their situation.
If you choose to not complete the restorative justice process (either at the start or mid-way), we will return the file to the referring agency and they decide how to proceed. Their options are generally to take no further action or go forward with a formal criminal charge.
The timeline of each case differs depending on several factors, such as the number and availability of people participating, the severity of the offence and its impacts on people, the emotional state of each participant, and our caseload. As a general guideline, a typical case runs four to eight months from intake to file closure.
Restorative justice requires you to actively participate in the process by attending meetings, openly discussing the offence and what led up to it, exploring ways you can address harms that resulted from and causes of the offence, communicating (directly or indirectly) with people who were affected by your actions if they wish to participate, listening to their perspectives and sharing your own, and carrying out the agreement terms that are decided on.
- File referral: the referral source gets permission from you and the victim to refer the offence to restorative justice. Depending on the referral source, we receive contact information for you and the victim, and some general information about the offence.
- Initial contact: the case manager calls the victim and offender involved in the offence to ask if they understand and consent to the referral being made. The case manager also calls the parents/guardians of any victims or offenders who are under 18. During the initial phone call with you, the case manager will answer any preliminary questions you might have and will invite you to attend our office for an intake if you are interested in exploring restorative justice. During this call and the intake meeting, the case manager will be asking if you accept responsibility for the offence, as this is a requirement of our program.
- Intake meeting: at the intake meeting, you and the case manager will discuss confidentiality, the offence, our program guidelines and expectations, and your hopes and expectations. We can answer any questions you might have and talk through different options. If you choose to proceed with restorative justice, we will ask some questions with the goal of getting to know you better. We want to learn more about you so that we can work together to design a process that’s meaningful. This intake meeting typically lasts one to two hours. You may bring a supporter with you to any meeting; please let us know ahead of time if you plan to bring someone.
- Assigning a team: if you, the victim, and the case manager are all in agreement to proceed, the case manager sends a call-out email to our caseworkers, who self-select which cases they’d like to be part of. The nature and severity of the case will impact the number of people who make up the team. Typically, it will consist of two facilitators who work with the participants to design and facilitate the dialogue. Also, we assign you a mentor to support and assist you in being successful in the process. We also offer a mentor to the victim if they have chosen to participate in the process.
- Your mentor will contact you first and ask to set up a meeting to get acquainted. Topics of discussion during meetings with your mentor will include how they can best support you in restorative justice, what accountability means and looks like, your understanding of the offence and the harms that might have resulted from it, factors in your life and in society that might have contributed to the offence, and what you would be willing to offer to the others participating in the process around addressing the harms and causes of the offence (the things that will go into the agreement). Your mentor will also discuss with you the restorative justice dialogue, and they will begin to plan and prepare you for that meeting. You may meet the mentor once or multiple times depending on your needs and the needs of the case.
- When you and your mentor feel ready, you will both meet with the facilitators where you will further plan and prepare for the restorative justice dialogue. The facilitators also meet with the victim and anyone else who wants to participate in the dialogue to ensure they are prepared. Once everyone (you, the team, the victim, and other people invited to participate) feel confident to move forward, the dialogue will be scheduled.
- Restorative justice dialogue (RJD): this group meeting explores how the victim and others have been harmed by the offence and the needs that have resulted from it. This meeting provides you an opportunity to provide information to the victim and/or others in attendance around such things as what was motivating you at the time of the offence, what has been happening since, how you feel about it, and more. You will also hear directly from them about how the offence has impacted their lives, and you will be able to respond (e.g. acknowledge their pain, express remorse, apologize, etc.). The factors in your life that may have contributed to the offence, and ways those can be supported or addressed, will also be explored. Everyone works together to create an agreement, by consensus, on how to move forward. While a volunteer types up the agreement, everyone at the dialogue will complete a paper survey regarding the process thus far. We use this data to improve our program, report to our funders and referral sources, and demonstrate the value of our services to the community. Dialogues typically last between 2.5 and 4 hours and take place at our office. Immediately after the dialogue, we send the agreement to the referring agency and anyone else who requires a copy.
- Completing the agreement: after the restorative justice dialogue, you will check in regularly with your mentor and complete the terms of the agreement by the deadlines decided in the dialogue. The case manager will keep the victim and referring agency updated on your progress. As you complete each agreement, you will submit any required verification (e.g. if you are doing volunteer work in the community, we need written documentation from your volunteer supervisor). Please note that we reserve the right to follow up with anyone who verifies completion.
- Notifications and paperwork: once each agreement term is completed, we notify the victim and send a final report to the referring agency. This concludes the file.
- Final survey: two months after the agreement is complete, one of our volunteers (not anyone who was involved with your case) will contact you via telephone or email for a final evaluation on your experience with us. We greatly value feedback and want to provide the best service possible to our clients, which is why we do evaluations throughout.
The agreement contains concrete steps that you agreed to do in order to best address the harms resulting from the offence, as well as factors and causes of the offence. Every agreement looks different and we encourage creative terms that address the unique needs of the participants. Some of the typical terms you might see are:
- A formal apology to victims and others harmed by the crime
- A gift or some other offering to victims and/or the community
- Restitution to pay for damages related to the offence (we do not facilitate payment for pain and suffering)
- Follow-up meetings with victims to further understand the offence and address harms
- Attending support services such as counselling, treatment, trauma recovery, meditation/wellness, etc.
- Giving back to the community through volunteer service
- Donations or gifts to social serving agencies/causes related to the offence or of interest to the victim
- Creating and delivering public presentations on matters related to the offence
- And much more!
The number of people assigned to a case varies depending on the severity of the case and the needs of the participants. For more minor offences, you may just work with one person. If it is more serious and there are more people involved, there can be as many as four people assigned to the case. The people assigned have distinct roles, but all share the same goal of supporting you, the victim, and everyone else involved through this process.
The team will expect you to participate meaningfully in this process. This means that you attend scheduled meetings, respond to all communication, and meaningfully engage with the team and the other participants. We know that restorative justice takes a lot of courage and we are here to support you.
Please note that RJV cannot provide counselling, treatment, legal advice, or any social work services, though we are happy to connect you with organizations that can. You are welcome to bring supporters to any meetings you have with us.
Restorative justice can happen at any stage in the criminal justice system. In some cases, the file is referred as diversion out of the criminal justice system before a charge has been laid. This can be done by the police or Crown. Alternatively, the matter can be referred after a charge has been laid by the Crown with the understanding that if you complete the process, the charges are stayed (dropped). Restorative justice can also be used before or after sentencing. Whether or not you have been charged will depend on what point in the criminal justice system the case was referred.
If a file is referred as diversion before a charge has been laid and you complete the process, you will not get a criminal record for the offence. The same is true when a file is referred after a charge has been laid with the understanding that if you complete the process, the charge will be stayed. However, in both instances, there will be a police record of the offence that may show up if you get a vulnerable sectors police information check (a more thorough criminal record check) done.
At what stage in the criminal justice system restorative justice is used and how it impacts your record is complex. We are happy to discuss with you the implications of restorative justice in your case.
When a case is referred through the criminal justice system (police, Crown, judges, probation, etc.), and you do not complete the process, we send the file back to the referring agency and describe what took place. The next steps depend on at what point in the justice system the file was sent to us. Generally, the referring person can choose to either end the file or go forward with a formal criminal charge. We don’t have any say or input into what the criminal justice system does with your case from there. We can discuss all of these possibilities with you so you are clear about how it relates to your circumstances.
When we are referred a case, we do a considerable amount of assessment during the intake stage regarding whether it will be appropriate for restorative justice, as well as safe and effective. We also provide all participants with a lot of support throughout the process, so it’s very uncommon for a case to end incompletely.
Restorative justice provides you with a unique opportunity to self-reflect, set goals, learn new perspectives, and give back to your community and the people you’ve affected in a supportive and safe environment. As a response to crime, it provides you a place to demonstrate accountability, address harms, transform shame or negative feelings you have about yourself and the crime, and access personal healing from harms you may have experienced that contributed to the offence. Some people who have participated in restorative justice have found the process to be life-changing. If you are willing to put in the time and energy, you may find that it has far-reaching positive effects in your life.