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Community Capacity Building in Nova Scotia's Restorative Justice Program

Lead Researcher: Bruce Archibald

The purpose of this project is to understand, theoretically and pragmatically, the possibility for restorative justice to empower communities.

From a theoretical perspective, the issue of "strengthening community" may best be viewed relative to the impact of formal criminal justice. Judges trying or sentencing offenders are constrained by the evidentiary principle of relevance, which allows admissibility of evidence only on the precise issue before the court. Courts cannot, therefore, explore causes for crime, resources for crime prevention, and community structural or even architectural aspects of criminal behaviour and it amelioration. Restorative conferences, however, are in theory free to explore the deep causes for crime patterns in very local circumstance, and to seek community solution rather than merely responding to the individual offence. This may become a form of community empowerment which could lead to community development.

Restorative conference may identify private, community and governmental resources controlled by a wide spectrum of community agents, and bring them together in way not normally envisioned in the bureaucratic context of formal criminal justice. Functioning as a public/private node of governance, restorative conferences can thus build the capacity of communities to respond to circumstances which span problems of the sort which led to convening the restorative process in the first place. To the extent that restorative conference can open channels for continuing community resource creation and utilization, they are developing social capital and not merely engaging in individual human capital investment.

One of the challenges of restorative conferencing in this context if to network successfully with various administrative institutions of the state, such as health, education, recreation, and social service bureaucracies, in order to convince them that cooperation with community restorative justice can help them attain their objectives in perhaps unexpected ways. While the same difficulties may arise in cooperation with resource holders from the private sector, formal accountability constraints may not be as rigid in the private context as in the pubic one.