No one should be burdened by a foolish mistake of youth.
If Carol Laczkovics didn’t believe this, she might not have been a volunteer with Sicamous’ Restorative Justice program for the past 12 years.
As the program’s current co-ordinator, one of the things Laczkovics is most proud of is the number of people who have gone through the program and have not re-offended.
“Right now it’s between 97 and 98 per cent,” says Laczkovics. “That means that of the offenders who go through our program, 97 to 98 per cent of them do not re-offend. So it’s a very successful program. And it’s a very unique one for a small town.”
Sicamous’ Restorative Justice program is made up of a panel of citizen volunteers who work in conjunction with the RCMP to restore first time offenders, typically youth, to healthy, functioning members of the community.
A key part of the program, and the hardest part according to Sicamous councillor Fred Busch – a volunteer with the program for the past five years – is that the offender is made to face their victim and learn the true impact of the offence. Through this civil exchange, the offender may develop a greater sense of empathy for the victim, and the community of which he or she is part.
Busch says the program was introduced to Sicamous in 1995 by former councillor and co-founder Eileen Whitehead, who had learned of it through a municipal conference in the Kootenays, and helped establish it with other volunteers including Ruth Cameron. But according to Laczkovics, its origins go back to aboriginals in New Zealand.
“There was a fellow from Australia who witnessed the program; he was able to… bring it to Australia with the aboriginals,” said Laczkovics. “Word got out in Canada and the RCMP, I believe 10 of them, went over and learned the program, and they brought it back to Canada.”
Program volunteers form a panel that sit on the meeting between victim and offender. They may also help mentor the offender through the process, which will typically include some form of reparation and/or community service.
“It’s a good program and we fully endorse it,” says Cst. Pat Pyper, speaking on behalf of the Sicamous RCMP. Pyper notes that one of the key benefits of the program is that offenders who are put through it successfully come out the other end without a criminal record.
“It is a little bit more work for us, but it’s worth it, rather than the kids going through the court system… I think it’s a little better on the victims and the suspects.”
Adding to this, Laczkovics says that those who go through the program are generally, really good kids.
“Everyone has something in their past, maybe they got away with it, maybe they didn’t. And when it’s just a foolish mistake, for that to be held over your head for the rest of your life; it’s enormous,” says Laczkovics.
The Restorative Justice program cannot work without its volunteers, and more are needed, particularly men.
“There’s only one man participating and that’s Fred, and a lot of the clients that we deal with are mainly men, young boys, and they feel it would be maybe a bit more effective if they have a man looking at them and talking to them,” says Pyper. “A lot of these boys, sometimes they don’t have a man as a father figure or a mentor in their life.”
Anyone wishing more information about the program, or to volunteer, may contact Laczkovics at 250-836-3826.