Kim McLandress: ‘Healing’ model of justice

Chilliwack's Kim McLandress, 33, as featured in The Chilliwack Progress Forty Under 40.

Kim McLandress.

Kim McLandress.

A victim of crime when she was 16 years old, Kim McLandress says her day in court left her with the uneasy feeling that something was not quite right with the process.

“I knew something was wrong with it, but I didn’t know what at the time,” she says.

“I felt re-victimized … I never got to say anything.”

Flash-forward three years when McLandress is a college student in Calgary, Alberta, and she’s introduced to something called “restorative justice” or court diversion as it was then more commonly called.

She is immediately hooked, and asks her professor how she can learn more.

“For me, I just said, ‘Where do I go? How do I do this? This makes sense to me, this concept. I need to be involved with it.’”

The professor suggests McLandress take a look at a restorative justice program just getting underway in Chilliwack.

So McLandress moves here, enrolls at the University-College of the Fraser Valley, and in 2000 starts working a student practicum at the fledgling Chilliwack Restorative Justice Society.

Funding was always a problem in the society’s early days, so McLandress stays on as a volunteer. Later, when funds are available, she is hired as program coordinator. Now she is the executive director.

“I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing,” she says.

Because the restorative justice model gives first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to “own up to their actions,” she says, while giving victims a role in forming “meaningful consequences” that will drive home the lesson.

The restorative justice model often includes a face-to-face meeting with the victim, which can have a powerful personal impact on the offender.

“Hopefully, this helps them make better decisions in the future,” McLandress says.

According to the research, it does. Fewer young offenders re-offend after going through a restorative justice program than those who go through the courts.

The Chilliwack program, which will see its 2,000th referral sometime this year, has an 85 per cent success rate.

“I think we’re having a large sum of youth who are getting educated and not re-offending,” McLandress says. “I think it’s creating a healthier community.”

Chilliwack was an early leader in restorative justice, and McLandress hopes to see the community stay on the leading edge.

Now 33 years old, but her passion for the “healing” model of justice still strong, McLandress says she’d like to see it expand into “pre-emptive” education with “circle times” in elementary schools that give students a chance to discuss the rights and wrongs seen during the day.

“There’s lots of positive things that can be done ahead of time, and even at younger ages,” she says, to keep Chilliwack’s kids on the right side of the road.