PRINCE ALBERT — Parkland Restorative Justice (PRJ) last year hired Heather Driedger to co-ordinate its two programs: Person to Person (P2P), a prison visitation program, and Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA), a reintegration program for sex offenders.
Based in Prince Albert and serving both the city and the outlying communities, PRJ is supported by different faith communities who share the belief that restorative justice provides healing, helps reintegrate inmates and keeps our communities safe.
Driedger brings valuable work experience to her assignment as well as a steadfast commitment to restorative justice.
“The work of PRJ is important, community building work,” she says. “Crime is a break in relationships and communities. Understanding that crime and the justice system are complex, I have found approaching these complexities best unfolds through a restorative lens rather than a punitive one.”
Driedger believes restorative justice “allows more creativity for approaching repair, instead of blanketing offenders with pre-determined punishments and leaving victims’ voices silenced and their needs unaddressed. Of course, there is a place for the traditional way of sentencing offenders, especially high-risk offenders, but even in these cases, restorative justice can be utilized afterward as part of the offender’s rehabilitation and the victim’s road to healing. P2P and CoSA are both strong examples of restorative justice being used with high-risk offenders.”
Parkland Restorative Justice has a proud history of work in the restorative justice field dating back to the 1970s when the local Mennonite community started P2P at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary to provide visits for inmates who were not receiving regular visitation. P2P has experienced steady growth throughout the years and, by the 1990s, there were consistently 50-60 inmates being visited on a monthly basis by volunteers.
It became evident to the co-ordinator and volunteers of the P2P program that there needed to be more reintegration programs for offenders in the community. The CoSA model was adopted in 1997 by staff and volunteers of P2P to help reintegrate offenders back into the community. In 2014, increased support across denominational lines led to the transition of P2P and CoSA programming no longer being under the umbrella of Mennonite Church Saskatchewan but under the formation of a new, non-profit, Parkland Restorative Justice. This formation was intended to better reflect the variety of partners involved in the programming and to grow restorative justice programming in Prince Albert.
Today, there are more than 60 volunteers in the P2P program. Volunteers visit monthly for two hours each time and establish friendships that help the inmates recognize their value as human beings and help them re-integrate successfully when released from prison. Both visitors and inmates are enriched by the experience P2P offers them. Highlights of their visits include a Christmas banquet in December and a barbecue in June, paid for by the inmates themselves in a show of appreciation to their visitors.
The CoSA program matches one released inmate with three or more volunteer support members who meet regularly, formally and informally, to establish a support system for this ex-inmate who would otherwise have little or no social support on the outside and would be prone to re-offend and return to prison. Research (Wilson, Cortoni and McWhinnie, 2009) demonstrates that sexual re-offending rates for men who participate in CoSA are 80 per cent lower than for men who do not participate.
Driedger can be contacted at 306-763-6224 or firstname.lastname@example.org