Council okays base funding for Restorative Justice

Council stopped short of greenlighting the extra $10,000 requested for a pilot project to help at-risk youth

It was almost everything they asked for.

Annual funding of $31,500 for Chilliwack Restorative Justice and Youth Advocacy was approved by council under the Community Development Initiatives Funding (CDIF) program last week.

But they stopped short of greenlighting the extra $10,000 requested for a pilot project to help at-risk youth.

Council will wait until there’s some financial support established for the project from the school district before jumping in.

“Maybe once there is some funding there, we can revisit this,” said Sharon Gaetz at the last council meeting.

Council learned there were 176 files opened in 2014 compared to 166 files the year before. That was a year where they were second in the province for the number of total referrals, said Kathy Funk, executive director of the CRJYAA, in her report to council. They saw 800 people come through the office doors in 2014.

What’s new in the restorative justice world is further recognition that if they start working early with young offenders, there’s a better chance of “getting them on — or keeping them on — the right path,” said Funk

As an alternative to the justice system, it can also cut down on court processes and police time.

Mayor Gaetz noted a change in the client demographics, noting that 39 per cent who were referred were youth, while 61 per cent of the first-time offenders they assisted were adults.

“When council started with this process with restorative justice the focus was on youth,” she said, adding they’ve noticed since then there has been “a bit of a shift.”

Funk later addressed that query, regarding the youth question, “that’s why we’re going to work with the schools” on the pilot project.

The additional $10,000 would have gone toward the pilot project at the Chilliwack middle school in cooperation with School District #33. It would allow them to hire a part-time co-ordinator for the program focused on at-risk youth and prevention.

Council’s base funding level of $31,500 for Restorative Justice has remained at the same level since 2010. It also provides office space, telephone, utilities and office supplies for the office space located within the downtown Community Policing Society Office on Wellington Ave.

“We are of the opinion that our program effectively reduces recidivism rates,” wrote Funk in the letter to the city requesting program funding. “An evaluation by the University of the Fraser Valley Criminology Department of our program conducted in 2003 indicated that our recidivism rate for shoplifting was considerably lower for youth in the same circumstances when compared to those who go through the traditional justice system.

“In the first six months of 2014 our youth files have increased over 20%.