Debbie Leitch heads Blackfalds’ new youth restorative justice program

RED DEER – The Red Deer County Police Advisory Committee (PAC), in partnership with Blackfalds RCMP, has formed a Restorative Justice (RJ) Program. This program will provide youth offenders from the Blackfalds detachment area with an opportunity to avoid entering the criminal justice system by accepting responsibility for actions and repairing harm caused by those actions.

The first Program Coordinator for the Rural Red Deer Restorative Justice Program is Debbie Leitch. She has a bachelor of nursing degree from the University of New Brunswick and a masters of nursing degree from the University of Alberta.

“My 40-year nursing career, prior to retiring and volunteering for this position, was focused on improving health outcomes for mothers, children and families- at the bedside, as a nursing instructor and in a provincial health administrative role.”

Leitch welcomes this opportunity to partner with the RCMP in this innovative approach to improve long-term social outcomes for youth living in rural communities. She said the program supports communities in their efforts to foster strong, healthy and safe places for families to live and grow.

“(It) seemed like the natural next step for me. Throughout my career, I have been blessed to work with dedicated and passionate people who believe in what can be achieved when we share a common goal and are driven to achieve that goal.

“Strong, safe, and healthy communities in which to live and grow, that’s the goal.”

Debbie lives on a small farm in Lacombe County, along with her husband, some cows, and a couple of horses. They have one son who is a Constable with the RCMP in northern Alberta.

First Program Coordinator for the Rural Red Deer Restorative Justice Program is Debbie Leitch. (Photo Rural Red Deer Restorative Justice Program)

The RJ program is currently available within the Blackfalds RCMP detachment area which includes rural communities in both Red Deer County and Lacombe County. The first set of referrals will begin in the Town of Blackfalds. 

Participation in the RJ program is completely voluntary. The youth involved in the event are accompanied by their parents/guardians in meetings and any party may choose to not participate at any time. The process engages trained volunteer facilitators in supporting individuals who were harmed by the offence to share the impact on them, their family and community with the individual responsible for causing the harm.

All parties identify actions and meaningful consequences that would repair that damage done. A contract outlining a time frame for the completion of the agreed upon actions is signed. Successful completion of the contract results in the avoidance of the incident progressing to the justice system. 

The Rural Red Deer Restorative Justice program functions in partnership with the Blackfalds RCMP Detachment and is supported by a Community Advisory Council. The council provides oversight, direction and guidance to the program so that this community-based response to crime provides a safe, accessible, appropriate and effective option for young offenders, those they have harmed and their communities

At this time, access to the Restorative Justice program is through the Blackfalds RCMP School Resource Officer Const. Jeffery Hewitt. Any individual who has experienced harm by the actions of a youth, any youth who accepts responsibility for harms that may have resulted from their actions, as well as their parents, school teachers or counsellors may connect with Const. Hewitt to determine if a referral to the program is appropriate. 

The Blackfalds RCMP detachment area covers Joffre, Aspelund, Aspen Beach Provincial Park, Blackfalds, Burbank, Chigwell, Clive, College Heights, Prentiss, Gull Lake, Gull Lake (summer village), Haynes, Lacombe (rural), Lynn Valley, McKenzie, Mynarski Park, Penhold (Canadian Forces Base), Poplar Ridge, Prentiss, Red Deer County, Springbrook, Springvale Heights, Union Carbide Prentiss and Woodland Hills.

If you are interested in learning more about the Rural Red Deer Restorative Justice program, contact Debbie Leitch, Program Coordinator at debbie@rrdrestorativejustice.ca or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.