Restorative Justice/Harm Reduction Pilot Project: Participatory Program Evaluation

Community-Based Research Award


Research Team: Molly Bannerman, Joan Ruzsa; Restorative Justice Facilitators

What is this project about?

Many people who use drugs have been harmed by society’s punitive approach to drug use. Harm reduction programs aim to work with people to reduce drug-associated harms without penalizing them. However most organizations also respond to problematic behaviour among clients with penalties (barring people, or limiting what services can be used). Restorative justice is an approach that allows organizations to continuing working with these clients.

In 2013/14, Rittenhouse and St. Stephen’s Corner Drop-In received funding from the City of Toronto’s Drug Prevention Community Investment Program to develop and implement a pilot program on restorative justice and harm reduction. When people are denied access to community agencies they not only lose important services but are at greater risk of social isolation, using drugs in unsafe ways, experiencing violence and being targeted by the police. All of these increase HIV risk. During the pilot, twelve participants from the Drop-In centre, who use drugs and who had been involved with the legal system were employed by the centre and trained as restorative justice facilitators. The goal was to have these individuals work with others at the Drop-In to reduce conflict and develop community solutions to disruptions. The participatory evaluation looked at the outcomes for these facilitators and for the functioning of the Drop-In.


The evaluation showed that facilitators felt an improved sense of self and a greater capacity to connect with others. They learned practical skills to prevent conflict from happening and to deescalate conflict as it begins, as well as listening skills to begin to understand this invisible issues below the iceberg. Over 50% believed their capacity to resolve personal conflicts also improved. Facilitators were not involved in as many formal conflict resolution process as had initially been anticipated, in part because of the skills they developed to identify agitated or angry clients and work to calm them before conflict occurred. Facilitators have become a valuable community resource both inside and outside the Drop-In. This evaluation has led Rittenhouse to secure two additional years of funding to replicate the pilot at WoodGreen Community Services and the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC).

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