While it has the word "youth" in its name, Chilliwack Restorative Justice and Youth Advocacy Association (CRJYAA) has found itself dealing with a growing number of shoplifting adults in recent years thanks to a struggling economy.
The program provides an alternative to the criminal justice system by providing community-based punishments and forcing offenders to make amends and apologize to victims for their actions. About half of all cases involve shoplifters, with the rest split between various non-violent property offences, along with minor drug possession.
But despite the perception that shoplifting is primarily the domain of the young, CRJYAA executive director Kim McLandress says about half of the program's clientele now consists of adults.
"Our adult clientele has increased substantially in the last four years, especially shoplifting," McLandress said.
"We have attributed that to the economic situation," she said. "The adults are stealing more so for need, as opposed to some of the things that the youth are stealing."
She continued: "There's some who kind of just made a bad mistake, but a lot of it is more the economic times are really pinching them and they might be purchasing a bunch of groceries and just stealing a couple things that weren't on their budget because they just ran out of money."
Many of those are not exactly your stereotypical offenders. For example, the program recently handled the case of an 81-year-old senior who had never been in trouble.
Volunteers treat adult offenders differently than youth, McLandress said.
"We have different ways of dealing with the adults," she said.
"We're connecting them with other resources in the community . . . in the hope they won't be put in that situation again."
On the other hand, McLandress said, youth typically do not steal because of a need. Instead, it's often simply a way to get something for nothing.
"For some reason, around the school system in Chilliwack, the word is out there that it's easy to get stuff for free by shoplifting," she said, adding: "I don't know how it's easy because we get tons of files."
But while teens might know that stealing is wrong, breaking the law often seems easier than standing up for what is right.
"A lot of the ones we see have to do with peer pressure," McLandress said.
Whether dealing with youth or adult offenders, McLandress said the program works because it punishes clients-usually in the form of community service-while at the same time giving them the tools and the self-awareness to move past their poor decisions.
"A lot of people come in with a lot of shame and I think if they continue on with that shame and blame that can negatively affect their behaviour and decisions in the future," she said.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF JUSTICE
Jan. 8 - Redemption
Jan. 15 - Success
Jan. 22 - Challenges
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