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Making things right: Collaboration diverts youth from criminal justice system

By Rebecca Cohoe

We all make mistakes. Hopefully, though, we can learn from them.

A President’s Award-winning collaboration between the RCMP N.L. and Memorial is making sure youthful errors in judgment become an opportunity for growth, not a slippery slope.

Watch what the collaboration is all about in the video below.

Extrajudicial measures are a mechanism of the Youth Criminal Justice Act that address less serious youth crime outside of the formal criminal justice system. The goal is to hold young people accountable in ways that are relevant, timely and beneficial not just to the youth, but also within their communities.

Enter a partnership, helmed by Dr. Rose Ricciardelli, associate professor, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the RCMP N.L.

According to Peter Clark, assistant commissioner and commanding officer, RCMP N.L., the first step was to find detachments and communities that were interested in acting as pilots for the program.

“We went out to two locations in Newfoundland and Labrador — Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Bay St. George — and identified that there was community interest and appetite to work on this program and bring it to those environments,” he said.

Community context

It was found that in order for extrajudicial measures to work, significant attention would need to be paid to the specific context of the communities taking part.

“I saw a lot of Newfoundland,” laughed Dr. Ricciardelli. “Every part of Newfoundland and Labrador is really different, but everywhere we went, I met people who were eager to do something in terms of helping youth for the good of their communities.”

From there, the partnership established core committees, which included an RCMP member from local detachments and community members, to assess whether or not extrajudicial measures could address situations where a youth committed a crime.

The committees would then assess individual situations and consider what happened, but also consider the situation of the youth, including their family, their interests and their challenges.

Looking beyond the incident

Part of the successes of the program comes from the fact that many committee volunteers are deeply embedded in their communities.

“We have retired teachers, we have elders in the communities, we have a variety of different individuals — it’s pretty incredible,” said Dr. Ricciardelli. “We have artists. A friendship centre is involved. It all depends on where they are and what’s available in that community.”

Dr. Ricciadelli at the RCMP headquarters in St. John’s.

Delina Petit Pas and Darlene Sexton, Bay St. George volunteer committee members, both see benefits to the project’s collaborative approach. Ms. Sexton says the panel is “very important.”

“Each person in our group comes with different skills and life experiences,” she said. “For example, I worked at a middle school for many years, and another committee member has an adult child who has been in trouble with the law. Putting us together is really useful, as we can see the good in the youth, and look beyond the incident.”

“By the end, nearly everyone involved was in tears, hugging each other.” — Delina Petit Pas

According to Ms. Petit Pas, each individual case requires an individual response.

“We use active listening looking for cues on how we might best help a youth to make retribution for an offence,” she said. “Our empathic approach in dealing with youth has resulted in our many success stories.”

The individualized focus has led to the use of a broad range of measures, from counselling to volunteering to good old-fashioned apologies. One case that stands out to Ms. Sexton involved some youth who damaged private property.

“The children and their parents agreed to a talking circle with the victims and several others from the affected neighbourhood,” she explained. “The talking circle provided an opportunity for the youth to admit what they did, explain themselves, and offer an apology. By the end, nearly everyone involved was in tears, hugging each other as we closed the circle. The youth have not been in trouble since.”

Next steps

While the work in the two detachments was considered a pilot project, there is an appetite to extend the programming.

Commissioner Clark says the next thing to do is to evaluate the program, build the policies, create the structure so that police officers and community members understand its purpose, and “move it along.”

“We want to take it out to other regions that are ready and are looking forward to the chance to put another tool in the community toolbox.”

The collaboration is one of the 2016 President’s Award for Public Engagement Partnerships winners. As part of their prize, Memorial’s Office of Public Engagement and CITL have created the video above to help explain how extrajudicial measures are making a difference in Newfoundland and Labrador. For more information on the award, please visit online.

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