Nova Scotia has expanded its restorative justice program to include adult offenders.

Provincial Justice Minister Diana Whalen made the announcement Monday morning, as a national symposium on restorative justice begins in Halifax.

The program approach allows offenders and victims of crime to work together toward a resolution.

“It takes a holistic approach that involves the community, victim, and offender, that looks deeper than the offence to hold the offender accountable and to find meaningful ways to repair the harm,” said Whalen.

A restorative justice program for youth was established in 1999 as a pilot project in four Nova Scotia communities. Whalen says the program has grown through the years and is now available in more than 120 schools across the province.

“Schools using a restorative approach have seen a significant drop in suspensions and improved academic achievement for students and increased attachment to the school,” she said. “We’ve seen how restorative justice can benefit our youth, and we’ve seen what it can do for adults.”

The province ran pilot projects for adults in 2011 in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, the Municipality of East Hants and Colchester County. By the end of the month, the program will be available to adults across Nova Scotia.

The province is the first in Canada to offer a restorative justice program to both youth and adults across the province.

“I hope that this will be one part of the solution to us having fewer cases that really shouldn’t be before a judge, to divert them to the community and for other means of accountability,” said Whalen.

Carolyn Stewart and Meghan Peters took part in the restorative justice program after Stewart was arrested for robbing Peters’ café in Antigonish last year. They both say they benefitted from the approach.

“People were very upset about it and very up-in-arms. It made me think I wanted to meet the woman who broke in,” said Peters, who co-owns the Tall and Small Café. “We met and we spoke for a couple of hours. It was a very touching experience. I got a lot of answers … I saw that she was very, very remorseful and that it was just a mistake.”

Stewart says she was scared at first, but found the experience to be healing.

“It was interesting to put a face to it and really get to know who Meghan is … to hear her story and how I actually impacted her, the extent of the impact that I had on her, was really influential for me and really just took me back,” said Stewart. “It opened my eyes a lot to see her face and hear what she had to say.”

Peters says she doesn’t want Stewart go to jail. Instead, the women are now working together to host a community dinner.

“Let her redeem herself and show the community that she is remorseful and it was a mistake and that she probably will never do anything like this again,” said Peters.

“I really appreciate the opportunity and I think that it was needed,” said Stewart.

Whalen says the new approach will require a cultural shift in the corrections system, but serious crimes will still be exempt from the program.