How do you feel about Ryan Dickinson’s sentence? That was the opening question I was just asked in an interview with CBC TV news.

Ryan, 20 years old, is the first person sentenced in Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot. He pled guilty and was just given 17 months prison and 2 years probation.

I feel some relief that finally the cases are being dealt with. It’s been 8 months since the riots and that’s a long time to wait for closure. The criminal justice system is a very slow, cumbersome and expensive bureaucracy. Shortcomings are obvious; BC Premier Clark just announced a review of the justice system with a focus on reform.

I also feel sad and frustrated. Authorities in BC have chosen a strictly criminal justice approach – police, courts and prison. What a tremendous loss of an opportunity for healing and building community.

I raise a fundamental question: what is the purpose of our response to an offender?

Do we simply want punishment and retribution? That’s what this first sentence was about. Authorities wanted to send a clear message. If we continue to solely choose this get tough, eye for an eye approach, we really need to acknowledge what kind of a society that ultimately creates. And what about victims’ needs?

Crime hurts. Doesn’t it make more sense that justice should be about healing?

I think the purpose of our response to rioters, or any offender, should be to meet the needs of all parties through accountability, healing and resolution.

The rioters attacked our community and many people were hurt and traumatized.  Victims should be offered support and to have a say in what is required for resolution. Offenders need to be held accountable by taking responsibility, directly facing those they hurt, and helping to determine how they can make amends. And it’s our community, so we need to also be participants in a justice process.

The evidence is very clear: deterrence does not work; we have extremely high recidivism rates. Restorative justice does work. Recidivism is very low; victims report high satisfaction and reduced post traumatic stress symptoms as well as less fear, anger, hurt and vengefulness. Interestingly, research shows restorative justice makes the biggest difference with serious and violent crime.

So there are practical, evidence-based, and philosophical reasons for choosing restorative justice.

Ryan is now going to spend the next year in prison. What have we truly achieved? Are the victim’s needs met and are they now healed? Is Ryan going to be better off when he returns to our community? Are we a safer, stronger, healthier society?

And we’re about to continue to rack up our enormous bill spending millions of dollars responding to the next 125 accused.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we re-directed even a small fraction of the costs, say a million dollars, toward incorporating a restorative response?