Restorative Practices: Exploring Innovative Programs Delivered in BC

Last week, we launched a new initiative that has been in the works for the last few months – our monthly Speaker Series! Building off of the success from our JHS National Conference virtual Speaker Series, the JHS Pacific Speaker Series explores how John Howard Societies, partners, stakeholders, and community members are driving social and criminal justice innovation across Canada through monthly virtual presentations, workshops and seminars.  

In our first session, we learned about innovative restorative practices being carried out by two John Howard Societies in BC: JHS Victoria and JHS Okanagan & Kootenay.

JHS Victoria’s Girl Circle – Addressing the Rise of Self Harm, Anxiety and Depression Experienced by Young Girls

While most people have heard of Restorative Justice – an approach to conflict resolution – in schools, restorative practices are largely preventative in nature. This is the focus of Girls Circle, a JHS Victoria initiative delivered in middle schools across their region for preteen girls (defined as any student who identifies as a girl) ages 10 to 15.

“We work on developing skills, educating students about healthy communication skills, respectful relationships, and take an approach that seeks to transform the relationships within the school. Instead of expulsion and suspension, we’re looking at approaches that empower change and growth.” – Nathalie Down, a Facilitator & Service Design Consultant with JHS Victoria

The program was developed in response to the spike of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide experienced by young girls; and seeks to combat the patterns that continue to rise throughout North America and beyond.

Girl Circle meets on a weekly basis to increase positive connection and personal and collective strengths among youth. After providing a comprehensive breakdown of how the program functions and its impacts, our first Speaker Series presenter, Nathalie Down, a Facilitator and Service Design Consultant working with JHS Victoria to deliver Girls Circle explored a key question which has arisen for many programs during the COVID-19 pandemic:

How do you facilitate a Girls Circle in pandemic times? And more generally, how do you build social cohesion and connectivity in times of physical and social isolation?

JHS Victoria is redesigning Girl Circle to meet the evolving needs of young girls, their families, and their school during the pandemic. If Girls Circle continues to be delivered in person, how might masks effect girls’ ability to listen and empathize? Given the importance of talking sticks in Girls Circle – which are used as tools to sooth the speaker and allow them to share more freely – what substitutions can be made? These are just some of the challenges that the program is currently evaluating.

“If we do take the circle online, we must continue to view this measure as temporary”

Nathalie emphasized the value of body language, eye contact, talking pieces, and other aspects of ceremony that make in-person interactions in programs like Girls Circle so important.   

 “Although we can attempt to create online spaces and circles, online spaces are often unsafe for youth. They’re bullied, screenshotted, you don’t know whose listening in the background… so attempting to create a confidential sacred space online come with its own set of challenges.”

Redesigning programs and services to meet the needs of the people they serve in times of physical distancing and other hurdles created by COVID-19 is a challenge for many service providers. To learn more about JHS Victoria’s Girl Circle and the approaches being taken to redesign the program, watch our Speaker Series presentation below.

JHSOK’s Shoplifting Prevention Program – Restorative Justice in Action

In Canada, one in 11 people shoplift. The Shoplifting Prevention Program tackles the root of the issue by asking one key question – why?

Delivered by JHS Okanagan & Kootenay (JHSOK), the Shoplifting Prevention Program works to build awareness and personal responsibility on the part of the person who has been charged with shoplifting through the delivery of 8 sessions on the cause and effects of shoplifting.

Since coming into operation 6 years ago, the program has seen immense success. Back in 2014, JHSOK received roughly 36 shoplifting files that year. Fast forward to 2020, they received 59 new referrals to the program month of July alone. It is now being delivered in Spanish and French, and past program participants are currently translating the program into Punjabi and Tagalog to increase its accessibility.

The program benefits the community by saving money, time, and resources; the RCMP is able to make quick referrals, reduce the time spent on a person’s file by up to four hours, and ultimately alleviates stress on an already encumbered court system. The program equally benefits program participants by connecting them to the resources they need in the community and prevents recidivism by tackling the root of shoplifting crimes.

 “The program gives [program participants] an opportunity to break through and to figure out where they need support and help… if somebody talks about not having enough food for their family, we’ll get them connected to food sources in the community… if they talk about dealing with an episode of depression, we’ll ask, ‘have you got in touch with your mental health worker? If you don’t have one, here’s some resources for you.’” – Michelle LaBoucane, Director of Justice Services at JHSOK

To learn more about JHSOK’s Shoplifting Prevention Program, watch their Speaker Series presentation linked below.

JHSOK shares its program with other service providers. To learn about opportunities to deliver the Shoplifting Prevention Program in your community, get in touch with Michelle at michelle.l@jhsok.ca.

We’re excited to provide our wider community with an opportunity to join us in learning about social and criminal justice innovation today and in the months to come right here on our blog. Visit our blog every third Monday of the month for new resources on our Speaker Series, and get in touch with us at social@jhspacific.ca for more information.