Submitted by Richard Tarnoff
People occasionally commit acts that start off as mischief, but end up causing significant harm. Most of us cringe when we remember some of the things we did when younger. Unfortunately, bad decisions made on impulse can have long lasting impacts on victims and serious repercussions for the offender if they lead to criminal charges. This story is from Northern Ireland.
A 16 year old from South Belfast, along with three other people, broke into church property. The property was flooded and vandalized, and he was subsequently charged with burglary and criminal damage. He was offered the opportunity to participate in a Youth Conference and accepted. The facilitator met with the young man and his family on a number of occasions to discuss the offence and think about how he could make amends.
The facilitator also met with a clergyman, who represented the church organization. He described how the premises had been damaged and how other groups using the building had been impacted. He was willing to meet with the young man to communicate his feelings.
In the conference both parties were able to tell their stories. The young man was remorseful and regretted his decision to enter the premises without permission. Further, he now realized that his actions had a detrimental effect on many other people. He apologized and stated he was prepared to make amends by way of reparation work.
As part of the agreement, he donated a sum of money to a charitable organization helping to reconstruct people’s lives and homes after the Asian Tsunami. In addition, he completed ten hours voluntary work with the church, cleaning, polishing and painting, supervised by the caretaker. He kept his word as given at the conference and completed all that had been asked of him.
This young person has not reoffended. He has returned to school and will shortly take up vocational training. The victim is positive about the experience, and the caretaker is pleased that he was able to not only put a face to the acts, but to put closure on it by working alongside the young man. All parties involved in the conference believed the outcomes to be fair and proportionate to the offense.
Richard Tarnoff is the coordinator for The Boundary Restorative Justice Program. Community members who would like to learn more about restorative justice and mediation, and find out about training opportunities, are invited to attend our monthly meetings at Selkirk College. The next meeting is Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. For more information, contact Richard at 250 442-8633. Assistance from the Independent Academic Research Studies program, UK, is gratefully acknowledged.