Victims of Crime Research Digest No. 12
2018 Criminal Justice Professionals Survey: A Spotlight on Restorative Justice
By Natacha Bourgon
The Federal Victims Strategy (FVS), led by the Department of Justice Canada (Justice Canada), began in 2000 and was initially known as the Victims of Crime Initiative. It aims to give victims a more effective voice in the criminal justice system (CJS) and is based on the premise that although many significant advances have been made in legislation, policies, and programs for victims of crime, there are still many outstanding and emerging issues.
Although using a victim-focused approach is essential to give victims a more effective voice in the CJS, if no one in the system, or in the general public, knows about the resources available to them, they will not access them. As a result, the resources cannot be effective. Since the beginning of the FVS, as part of its regular five-year evaluations, Justice Canada has surveyed CJS professionals to measure their levels of awareness about victim-related Criminal Code provisions, and the CJS in general.
This article presents some of the results from the most recent survey, conducted in February 2018. The survey examined the attitudes, knowledge, and perceptions of police, victim services providers (VSPs), and Crown prosecutors on the role and participation of victims in the CJS. Crown prosecutors were later removed from the analysis due to a low response rate (n=8).
Restorative justice (RJ) processes for victims and survivors of crime have received increased attention and focus because RJ was mentioned in the Minister of Justice’s mandate letter.Footnote 68 This article will focus on the survey findings on RJ to further understand police and VSPs’ current awareness and experiences of RJ in Canada.
2.0 The Survey Respondents
The survey had 846 respondents – 63 percent (n= 531) were police respondents and 37 percent (n=315) were VSP respondents.Footnote 69 Although there were respondents from each region, findings should be interpreted with caution as there was unequal representation across jurisdictions. The majority of police respondents were located in British Columbia (57 percent; n=301); the majority of VSP respondents were based in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario (40, 25, and 19 percent, respectively; n=125, 78 and 59, respectively).
2.1 Police Respondent Profile
Of all police respondents, over one-third (37 percent; n=194) were from a municipal force, a little over one-third (34 percent; n=179) were from a provincial police force, and a quarter (26 percent; n=139) were from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Police respondents reported working with victims of crime for a longer length of time compared with VSP respondents. More specifically, approximately two in five (41 percent; n=220) police respondents reported between 10 and 19 years of experience working with victims of crime and over a quarter (29 percent; n=153) reported 20 years or more. The majority of police respondents (59 percent; n=312) reported working regularly (i.e., at least once a week) with victims of crime.
Police respondents more commonly served an urban population (66 percent; n=348). At least half of police respondents noted serving a rural population (51 percent; n=270) and close to a quarter reported serving a remote community (23 percent; n=121).Footnote 70
2.2 VSP Respondent Profile
Of all VSP respondents to this survey, over half (56 percent; n=176) reported providing police-based servicesFootnote 71 and about a third (31 percent; n=97) reported providing community-based/specialized victim servicesFootnote 72 such as services specialized in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault. Very few VSP respondents reported providing court-based victim servicesFootnote 73 (2 percent; n=6), system-based servicesFootnote 74 such as assisting victims throughout the CJS process (2 percent; n=5) and other types of victim services (8 percent; n=24). Over half (56 percent; n=175) of VSP respondents were relatively new with fewer than 10 years of experience working with victims of crime (compared with 28 percent for police respondents; n=151). Close to a quarter of VSP respondents reported having 10 to 19 (23 percent; n=72), or over 20 years of experience working with victims of crime (20 percent; n=62). The majority of VSP respondents (73 percent; n=231) reported working regularly (i.e., at least once a week) with victims of crime.
VSP respondents to this survey more commonly served an urban population (68 percent; n=213). At least half of VSP respondents noted that they served a rural population (58 percent; n=184) and close to a quarter reported serving a remote community (24 percent; n=76).Footnote 75
3.1 Restorative Justice
Restorative justice (RJ) is “an approach to justice that focuses on addressing the harm caused by crime while holding the offender responsible for his or her actions, by providing an opportunity for the parties directly affected by crime – victim(s), offender, and community – to identify and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime.”Footnote 76 RJ is respectful, inclusive, and voluntary. The values of RJ are based on respect for the dignity of everyone affected, healing, reintegration, the prevention of future harm, and reparation, if possible.Footnote 77, Footnote 78
3.2 Awareness of RJ Processes
Respondents were asked about their awareness of RJ processes based on a five-point scale, 1 being “not aware” to 5 being “very aware.” Findings showed that most police and VSP respondents reported being aware of RJ processes; 90 percent of police respondents (n=454) and 91 percent of VSP respondents (n=276) reported being either aware (rating of 3) or very aware (rating of 4 or 5).
Awareness of RJ processes
“In general, how aware are you of restorative justice processes?”
3.3 Referrals to RJ Programs
Respondents were asked how often they refer victims to RJ programs based on a five-point scale, 1 being “never” to 5 being “all of the time.” Findings showed that although respondents had a high awareness of RJ processes, they do not refer victims to RJ programs very often. Specifically, over half (51 percent; n=214) of police respondents said they rarely (rating of 1 or 2) refer victims to RJ programming. A little less than one-third (30 percent; n=126) said they referred victims to RJ programs some of the time (rating of 3), and only 9 percent (n=39) said they referred victims often (rating of 4 or 5). In comparison, close to two-thirds (62 percent; n=165) of VSPs said they rarely refer victims to RJ programs, 14 percent (n=38) said they referred some of the time, and only 6 percent (n=16) said they referred often.
3.4 Dissemination of Information on RJ to Victims
Respondents were asked whether they believe victims usually receive adequate information on RJ and who should be responsible for providing that information. Overall, both police and VSP respondents believed that victims do not usually receive adequate information on RJ. Specifically, a little over one-third of police and VSP respondents (34 percent, for both; n=140 and 88, respectively) disagreed (rating of 1 or 2) that victims usually receive adequate information on RJ; 29 percent of police respondents (n=120) and 25 percent of VSP respondents said they neither agreed or disagreed (rating of 3); 21 percent (n=88) of police respondents and 19 percent (n=49) of VSP respondents said they agreed (rating of 4 or 5).Footnote 79
Findings also showed that over half of both police and VSP respondents (53 and 52 percent, respectively; n=284 and 165, respectively) believed that VSP should have the responsibility to provide RJ information to victims. Approximately two-fifths of both police and VSP respondents (40 and 45 percent, respectively; n=213 and 143, respectively) believed that Crown should have the responsibility to provide RJ information to victims. Approximately one-third of both police and VSP respondents (37 and 31 percent, respectively; n=204 and 97, respectively) believed that police should have the responsibility to provide RJ information to victims.Footnote 80
3.5 Perception of the Number and Accessibility of RJ Programs
Respondents were asked if the number and accessibility of RJ programs has changed in the last five years, based on a five-point scale, 1 being “less than five years ago” and 5 being “more than five years ago.” Findings showed that the majority of respondents perceived that the number and accessibility of RJ programs had stayed the same over the past five years. Approximately one-third (32 percent; n=122) of police respondents perceived that the number and the accessibility (33 percent; n=125) of RJ programs available to victims have remained unchanged in the last five years. This trend is similar among VSP respondents (32 and 31 percent, respectively; n=58 and 56, respectively). Less than one-fifth of respondents thought that the number (15 percent for police and 17 percent for VSP; n=57 and 31, respectively) and accessibility (14 and 15 percent; n=53 and 79) of RJ programs available to victims had increased in the past five years. A few thought the number (7 percent for both police and VSP; n=28 and 13) and the accessibility (8 and 10 percent; n=29 and 18) of services available to victims had decreased in the past five years.Footnote 81, Footnote 82
3.6 Challenges in Accessing RJ
Respondents were asked if victims of crime faced challenges in accessing RJ programs in their communities. One-third (33 percent; n=87) of VSP respondents and close to one-quarter (22 percent; n=92) of police respondents said that, yes, they did.Footnote 83 Respondents who replied “yes” were prompted to provide a brief description of the challenge(s). Below is a summary of respondents’ most commonly reported challenges.
3.6.1 Absence or limited RJ programs: Many respondents noted that there are very few or no RJ programs available in their community, or in a nearby community.Footnote 84 This challenge also included programs with limited available funding and resources.
Restorative Justice is essentially unfunded in our area. There are no standards and no paid positions. The only program we have access to is the Youth Criminal Justice Committee which is 100% volunteer run and lacks the capacity and training to manage dealing directly with victims. Police respondent
3.6.2 Limited knowledge of RJ: Another challenge brought forward by the respondents was the limited knowledge or understanding of RJ, the programming, and the process as a whole. This also includes lack of awareness of RJ among the public as well as other CJS professionals.Footnote 85 A number of respondents provided comments on this challenge:
Awareness of the program in the community. Police respondent
Not enough information available, no training or info to victim services available. VSP respondent
Generally a lack of awareness on the part of both police, court system and the public. (Police respondent)
3.6.3 Lack of referrals: Having limited knowledge or understanding of RJ can affect the number of referrals to RJ programs. Other possible explanations for low referrals to RJ programs include the lack of “buy-in”Footnote 86 from other CJS professionals (which links back to the challenge on the limited knowledge of RJ).
3.6.4 Serious-offence cases: Another challenge identified by respondents was the appropriateness of RJ in serious-offence cases. Opinions differ widely on the use of RJ in sexual assault or domestic violence cases. Some respondents mentioned that in such cases RJ is inappropriate due to the power dynamics in the relationship, which can trigger secondary victimization. Others support RJ in cases of sexual violence, but highlighted the need to have specific tools and safety precautions in place to handle such cases. For example, a few mentioned that having a victim-centred approach and trauma-informed training are essential to support RJ in such cases to lower the risk of re-traumatization. Many respondents noted the lack of both components in their current programs:
There is a moratorium on RJ being used with victims of IPV and sexualized violence because the current program is not victim-centered and doesn’t take into consideration the safety of victims or what they need to heal. Current programs are focused on the benefits for the accused and don’t reflect the needs of the victims. Not culturally safe.
There are not victim-focused, trauma-informed programs in most communities. RJ is focused on offender timelines and process, not victim healing. Victims do not get to direct the process, they are only asked to participate. (VSP respondent)
3.6.5 Interest in participating: Some respondents noted that in some cases victims have little interest in participating in RJ programs. Respondents provided some explanations, for example stating that CJS professionals, the victim, and/or the accused have negative views of RJ or believe that RJ would not meet their expectations and needs. This is closely linked to the challenge of limited knowledge and understanding of RJ. Another possible explanation respondents highlighted is that victims could have emotional and psychological difficulties in proceeding with the RJ process. The previously noted challenges thus compound the emotional and psychological difficulties experienced by victims (e.g., the limited available supports, the lack of trauma-informed training, and the absence of a victim-focused approach).
3.6.6 Slow process: A few respondents noted that RJ processes may take a long time to set up and complete. This can be explained by the absence of, or the limited, RJ programs available, in communities, compounded by the limited funds and resources available. A slow process may also reduce victims’ interest in participating in RJ.
The program faces significant delays in processing/actioning decisions. In essence the program is defunct. Police respondent
The process is too slow, takes too long to set up and put in place. Police respondent
As noted above, the results of the study are limited due to the absence of Crown prosecutors. In addition, the distribution of the sample is skewed, with over half (57 percent) of the police responses coming from British Columbia and two-fifths (40 percent) of the VSP sample coming from Alberta. Another important limitation is that the majority (56 percent) of the VSP sample consists of those providing police-based services. The survey’s sample is thus not representative of all police and VSP in Canada.
The next survey of CJS professionals should re-examine and strengthen the sampling and participation strategy to mitigate the limitations noted in this current study.
Since 2015, one element of the federal Minister of Justice’s mandate has been to “increase the use of restorative justice.”Footnote 87 The survey results do provide some valuable insights into the attitudes, knowledge, and perceptions of police and VPS on the use and accessibility of RJ. Results show that most police and VSP respondents are aware of RJ processes and believe that the number and accessibility of RJ programs have stayed the same over the past five years. The findings also show that most respondents believe that victims do not usually receive adequate information on RJ and that they face many challenges in accessing RJ programs in their communities. Identifying these challenges is a first step towards increasing the use of these programs.
Natacha Bourgon is a researcher with the Research and Statistics Division, Department of Justice Canada. Her areas of research include corrections, criminal justice, victims, mental health and access to justice.
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