The Strathmore Youth Justice Committee is back with their restorative justice programs to help youth avoid the formal justice system and learn from their mistakes by engaging with the community. The committee was shut down for the previous two years due to covid. Committee representative Dean Young is excited to bring back what he believes is a very important program to set people back on the right path.

"They're kids, they don't have a lot of experience to draw from. Our committee has a wealth of experience to draw from. It's important for these youth to understand the reality that we all make bad decisions, but they have an opportunity to recover from that bad decision."

Young says restorative justice is a focused approach on helping youth understand the consequences of their actions, and through this they can avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Restorative justice is about getting youth involved with the community before entering the justice system, as ruining a youth's life forever with a criminal record isn't the way to go when you can address the issue in a more constructive way.

“Rather than doing referrals through a post-charge function, where the youth is arrested, charged with a crime, attends court, and then the diversion tactics kick in, what that unfortunately does for these kids is it puts them in front of a judge. The old way of thinking was ‘Let’s scare the pants off this kid,’ but that doesn’t necessarily create the proper mindset, specifically for kids coming in at a disadvantage."

A huge aspect of this is getting the victim involved. Young explained putting the youth through a more individual program like answering a series of questions can help, but ultimately the youth has to learn why their actions were wrong, and the impact it had on the victim(s).

"It's not just a matter of 'you did this wrong, you said you're sorry, you did an essay or you did community service and that's it, that's over.' That's not over."

While restorative justice can be great when put in action, Young said there have been some challenges and the committee itself can only do so much. Recently, Young said victims are less willing to engage with the offender due to personal reasons such as anger or fear, but also liability has become a concern. For example, if a youth vandalized a store and they worked with the store to clean it up, but then got injured on the store's property, the store would be liable.

The committee focuses on minor crimes like petty theft, minor assault, and mischief, but doesn't take referrals for bigger things like violent crimes or sexual crimes. Young explained handling the minor crimes early can prevent these offenders from gradually turning to more serious offences in the future.

"Why are we leaving this up to the government when we can take care of this ourselves? This is exactly how a municipality can embrace social justice and contribute to the actual social justice of diverting youth. We're not just diverting them from court, what we're truly doing is diverting them from any adverse experiences that come after that poor decision is made. And that poor decision will turn into more poor decisions if they don't receive support."

Young added the committee has several successes, including one youth who was so impressive in his work with Wheatland County that they even considered giving him a job.

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