For 14 years, Carole Eldridge has worked with the Restorative Opportunities (RO) program at the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), providing her clients with compassionate care as a restorative justice practitioner and mediator in cases of serious crime. She has walked the path with both victims and offenders on their journey towards dialogue and meaningful accountability. We recently sat down with Carole following her retirement to discuss the RO program and her exceptional work.
The judicial system addresses the crime committed against society rather than the harm against the person. Victim(s) are often left feeling unheard, with unanswered questions, and their needs left unmet. The RO program provides the opportunity for communication between victims and offenders. Offenders can take responsibility, provide meaningful information, and contribute to the prevention of future harm, and victims can get answers to their questions and concerns. It gives victims a voice and agency to participate. It also restores their sense of wellbeing and safety.
Carole Eldridge has provided victim-offender mediation services through CSC's Restorative Opportunities program for 14 years.
“Ideally people leave the process better than they came in,” Carole said. “That could mean that they never meet, but the participant, whether the victim or the offender, feels better about themselves. They have done their inner thinking, and can say, ‘I can move on from here.’ If somebody never moves on, they are potentially facing a lifetime of pain. Restorative justice is sometimes the way to enable them to discover an unanticipated balance.”
Carole has her own style in her work to help participants identify their needs and designs a process to meet them. It takes time and effort on the part of both the victim and the offender. Carole’s long-time manager Tania Petrellis noted, “Carole is famous for the ‘homework’ she leaves with participants. Not only to explore restorative justice values and principles but also how they feel or perceive things. She asks them to think about what they are looking for in wanting to meet and why. She asks them to write down what they want to say to the other person, to think about how they want to be heard, and how the other may receive their words. She works with each in preparation for the answers they may receive. So, by the time they meet, they have a sense of each other and what they might expect.”
“The introspection is difficult for offenders, but the work pays off, as it contributes to their visible and meaningful accountability that victims are able to witness and assess for themselves,” said Tania. “The same goes for victims, as they too have to work through their feelings and views to truly be able to have the conversations that they want to have. Carole supports her clients to do this work. We have seen amazing things in her practice.”
Carole often travelled with Haiku, her bearded collie and acknowledged therapy dog. Carole is the only one of the 21 RO mediators to use a therapy dog in the delivery of services. Haiku has accompanied her on some individual and victim-offender meetings. He is one of the innovative ways Carole achieved success in her work.
“The victim and offender were able to sit with this big hairy puppy sitting between them and pet him, which calmed both of them down. They were relaxed in communicating with each other,” said Carole.
Haiku, Carole’s bearded collie has played a significant role supporting victims and offenders involved in restorative justice processes.
“Involving Haiku showed just how much she cared and how difficult victim-offender meetings were; where the worst time of the participants’ lives is being discussed,” said Tania. “Bringing Haiku in was how Carole brought in her heart and empathy for what the participants were going through. And Carole, along with Haiku, helped people be brave enough and calm enough to dive deep into their hurt, their pain, and their trauma in a safe and supported way.”
Carole began her career as a probation officer in Toronto after completing a master’s degree in criminology. She moved to Ottawa in 1989 to become the Executive Director of the Dispute Resolution Centre for Ottawa-Carleton where she began delivering mediation and intervention services. She is one of the pioneers of pre-trial conflict resolution options for both youth and adults in Canada. Carole joined CSC after completing the first victim-offender mediation training in serious crime for the RO program. She later became one of a small, specialized group of mediators to go into the institutions and community sites and help further establish the program.
Carole’s conflict resolution and mediation skills have been an asset to CSC. She provided extensive training in conflict management to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Department of National Defence, and the Ottawa Police Service. In 2002, Carole piloted the first mediation training in Nunavut in Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, and English.
“In the work she does with victims and offenders, she really gives a lot of thought to what she can do to make the process work best for these people,” said Pat Brady, an RO Mediator on the Ontario team, who worked with Carole. “Within the institutions, people have raised her name a lot. Offenders and staff regard her highly as a competent and caring person.”
Carole’s mediation skills are apparent in her ability to respect the person she is there to support.
“One of the challenges is to take your personal prejudices out so you see the person and not the offence,” she said. “I learned one important lesson a number of years ago. I knew about the offence of the person I was going to be meeting because it made the news, and then I made prejudgements about them. Years later, people may not necessarily be the person they were at the time they committed the offence. That lesson taught me to differentiate between the person on paper and the person in front of me to better understand who they are now.”
Carole has made a difference in the lives of both victims and offenders using restorative justice principles. Everyone she worked with will miss her and Haiku. There is no doubt that she leaves a lasting impression with all those who had the chance to meet her over the years. We are grateful for Carole’s dedication, her service, and the way in which she helped so many.
You can read more about Restorative Opportunities and Restorative Justice on the CSC website: