While young first-time offenders are often seen as ideally suited for participation in restorative justice programs, a recent University of the Fraser Valley study of Chilliwack shoplifters suggests the process might be even more beneficial for those with prior criminal histories.
UFV teamed with the Chilliwack RCMP and the Chilliwack Restorative Justice and Youth Advocacy Association (CRJYAA) to analyze the case histories of 308 people caught shoplifting in Chilliwack between 2007 and 2009.
The study showed that participants in the restorative justice program were less likely to be caught shoplifting again over the next two years than shoplifters not in the program-including both those who were charged criminally and those who were nor charged. (The study did note that the results could be skewed by the fact that the decision to charge a person or refer him or her to restorative justice is not random).
The study-authored jointly by RCMP Supt. Keith Robinson, UFV Criminologist Darryl Plecas, UFV researcher Colette Squires and CRJYAA executive director Kim McLandress-produced some surprising results. It suggested, for instance, that restorative justice didn't reduce recidivism rates among first-time youth offenders but it did have an impact on those with a prior criminal history.
While the sample size was small, the 21 adults and youth with prior histories who participated in restorative justice were less likely to have been caught shoplifiting again than those not enrolled in the program.
They were also less likely to have been caught committing other crimes.
Even those restorative justice participants who returned to crime did so less often and after more time had elapsed from their original offence than those not in the program.
The authors concluded that "Given these research outcomes, it would be advisable for police, Crown, and the public to consider restorative justice as a first option for shoplifting to reduce court costs, court delays, and to improve recidivism rates."
And they advised retail store managers to take heed of the program's successes.
"No doubt many among them think they are taking the best action by having a significant percentage of offenders handled through the criminal charge process," the authors write. "The results of this report would suggest that it is hardly the best action-either for their stores or for community safety at large."
McLandress, the executive director at CRJYAA, speculated the program might be especially effective for those with past histories because it provides more of a connection between a person's crime and punishment
"I think going through this system something finally worked and connected with them, as opposed to the other forms that they may have gone through, [where] there's no accountability or no apology and no way to repair the damage done to themselves or the victim," McLandress said. "In this case they get all of that and I think that's the key to them not reoffending again."
As for the apparent lack of success lessening the chances that first-time offenders will return to shoplifting, McLandress speculated that many such people didn't quite realize how fortunate they were.
"A lot of them are quite young and I don't know if they fully understood the opportunity they were given," she said.
Thanks to the study the First West Foundation has provided funding for UFV and the CRJYAA to team together to develop a tool to better assess restorative justice clients at the start and end of their participation in the program.
© Copyright 2013