The latest crime statistics released by StatsCanada last week revealed crime was on the decline in Golden.
The stats also indicated a drop in charges being filed, particularly with youth, due to a renewed emphasis on a community-led program called restorative justice.
Restorative justice brings together the accused of a crime with the victim and allows for them to discus the impact of the infraction and negotiate justice.
According to Sgt. Betty Watson, detachment commander for Golden/Field, the program normally sees a resolution achieved within 30 days, a far cry from the lengthy process of going through the court system.
“It gives the opportunity for the victims to have a voice and hold the accused accountable for their actions and reconcile peace,” said Watson.
“If we’ve been wronged, the best is that the resolution happens sooner rather than later so it’s not festering and creating a sense of helplessness and no control.”
Watson says there are different criteria that decide if a case goes through the restorative justice program, saying that more serious offences are not suitable for the program.
There also needs to be some accountability shown by the accused, as offenders can’t be forced into the program and need to be willing to work towards a resolution.
Cases are often referred to the program by the RCMP, but referrals are encouraged to come from the community as well.
According to Mickey Balas, who helps lead the program, the process can be rewarding for both parties.
“The victims feel heard because they have ample opportunity to express how the crime affected them and their family, because it affects more than one person,” said Balas.
“But then we ask the offender how it affected them, their family and friends.
“We talk about how this is our community and how it affects everyone and give them a chance to say what’s really bothering them and correct their wrong.
“Usually when we leave, I see a huge look of relief on the offenders face, because they’ve had a good chance to atone for what they’ve done.”
Balas says that the process can help victims move on by eliminating the fear factor of the perpetrator.
Being able to sit face to face with them and talk eliminates a fear for this person in their community, which is something that is missing from the court system, as often victims don’t go to the trial.
Balas says she’s never once had a problem reaching a resolution point.
The program is open to any age demographics, with the RCMP being able to refer individuals as young as 12 years old, while Balas says that the youngest she has dealt with was a 10-year-old who was referred to the program by her mother.
The oldest was 86.
“There’s been a lot of value in this progress and it’s progressed we’ve seen the value extend beyond it’s initial target,” said Watson.
The Golden program is the second oldest restorative justice program in B.C., operating in the community for almost 25 years now.