Youth justice program ready for launch here

After being selected last fall as one of four communities in Northern Ontario to run an “alternative justice” pilot project for first-time, non-violent young offenders, Fort Frances soon will see the program in action.
“I’m excited about the program,” said youth justice co-ordinator Steve Latimer, who was an OPP officer for 30 years, many of which were spent in Rainy River District.
“It’s great to have an opportunity to try this here. It’s certainly the way I feel justice will be going in this province in the future,” he added.
The local United Native Friendship Centre has been selected as the host agency for the program, providing administration, office space, and support for a co-ordinator.
Youth justice conferences, presided over by program facilitators who are all community volunteers, will be the main focus of the project.
Training for facilitators, provided by the Ministry of the Attorney General, will be held at the UNFC on Oct. 7-8.
A justice conference involves bringing the victim and his/her supporters, the offender and his/her supporters, and two trained facilitators together in a controlled setting to talk about the crime and to see if a resolution can be arrived at to restore harmony in the community.
The heart of the program is the interaction between the parties. The offender speaks first, admitting what he/she has done. This can be a challenge for the facilitator since the offender is often reluctant to open up in front of other people.
The victim then speaks. This is usually very important for the victim because it is the first time he/she gets to say how they have been affected by the crime.
It also provides an opportunity for the offender to see what the impact of his/her crime has been and how it affects the lives of other people.
Frequently, the offender will apologize at this point, said Latimer.
Then the victim’s supporters are invited to speak on the harm the crime has done. This quite often is the first time the offender has given any thought as to how his/her actions have affected others.
Finally, the offender’s supporters speak, and they usually are as troubled as the victim, noted Latimer
The theory is the offender will feel remorse, and that it promotes a desire not to stray outside of what society sees as acceptable conduct.
The goal of the facilitation promotes offender awareness and allows the victim the opportunity—in a safe environment—to confront this person and find closure.
The group then is asked for suggestions on how the matter can be resolved. A contract is drafted, and the offender is expected to comply with the terms of resolution, reporting back to Latimer.
An apology is always required as part of a resolution, but other conditions could vary from a charitable donation, compensation, community service, curfews, and participation in community programs, among others.
“Anyone who reads about this will think, ‘This will work,’” noted Latimer.
The project should be fully operational by mid-October.
Crown Attorney Robert “Buster” Young, who chaired the steering committee to get the youth justice program in place here, noted it’s taken about a year to get the project infrastructure in place, having had to find a host agency, line up facilitators, and hire a co-ordinator.
“But now we’re ready to go. We’re way ahead of the other test sites in the north,” he noted yesterday.
The other communities chosen for the pilot project include Nipigon, Armstrong, and Marathon.
Young said Latimer was the perfect choice to co-ordinate the project, having experience both on the street and in the courtroom. “He puts a lot of energy into it,” he remarked.
Although called a “pilot project” by the Ministry of the Attorney General, Latimer said it’s likely all communities in the province will have to establish youth justice programs in the future.
“It is worth noting that as of April 1, 2003, the Youth Criminal Justice Act will come into effect, and one of the main thrusts of this piece of legislation will be alternative justice programs,” he noted.