Joellen McHard, Executive Director of Lanark County Community Justice, was received by Council at the Perth Town Council Meeting Tuesday night. She came dressed in a polar bear costume to celebrate the fact that Lanark County Community Justice (LCCJ) was chosen to be this year’s recipient of the Polar Bear Plunge fundraiser. This year, due to Covid-19, the Plunge will have an extremely limited number of jumpers (2) but all donations and pledges are gratefully accepted.
McHard wanted to share with Council the important work that LCCJ is doing in the community. LCCJ embraces restorative practices to heal harm that has been done, not simply punish perpetrators: they bring together victims, the accused, and support people. Together, they sit and discuss three questions: What happened (what / who was harmed)? What were you thinking? How can this be made right?
McHard noted that LCCJ handles approximately 50 cases per year, with two staff members and 20 volunteers. The service is victim-directed, with over 90% of victims reporting satisfaction with results. This is a steep increase over victim satisfaction in court cases, which result in a 28% victim satisfaction rate.
Councillor Bird asked McHard about the common misconception that community justice is “an easy way of getting out of being prosecuted in court.” McHard pointed out that while the justice system often results in incarceration or a fine, with community justice the perpetrator has to come face to face with the victim and have a discussion, possibly several. “An apology often spontaneously happens.” They are brought to account – quite literally – for why they chose to act as they did, and in the end, they are held to a legally binding contract in order to restore the harm that was done.
Perth Council thanked McHard for her presentation and congratulated Lanark County Community Justice on being chosen as this year’s recipient of the Perth Polar Bear Plunge.
The Perth Polar Bear Plunge was founded by former Perth resident Dave Lavery.