Ministry of Justice is actively pursuing full implementation of Restorative Justice to complement judicial proceedings, where reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators of crime and violence is deemed possible.
Restorative justice is defined as the process by which all parties with a stake in an offence come together to resolve the issue collectively, thereby embracing healing within the community and the society, at large. The concept focuses on the needs of victims, offenders and the community, rather than solely on punishing the offender.
Justice Minister, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, notes that while the courts have a “paramount” place in administering the rule of law, the restorative justice approach should also be embraced. He contends that given the numerous cases currently before the Courts, restorative justice could be used to arrive at a speedy and timely settlement to issues between the parties involved.
In this regard, the Ministry launched the programme as a pilot project, earlier this year, in four communities. These are: Tower Hill, St. Andrew; Granville, St. James; Canaan Heights, Clarendon; and Homestead, St. Catherine. The programme has, since, been expanded to three additional pilot communities – Effortville, Clarendon; and Ellerslie Pen and March Pen, St. Catherine.
Senator Golding points out that the programme has received some degree of momentum following Cabinet’s approval of the Restorative Justice Policy, and its subsequent tabling in Parliament.
In an interview with JIS News, Director of Restorative and Child Justice Reform in the Ministry, Ruth Carey, welcomed the extent of support which the policy has received, this far.
“As outlined in the policy, restorative justice will be utilised at the different stages of the formal justice system. This will allow the restorative justice centres to receive referrals of cases at different points,” Ms. Carey explains.
She points out that the policy outlines four referral points, which include : community, post-charge/pre-trial, post-conviction/pre-sentence, and post-sentence referrals.
She explains that the first referral allows communities to address disputes before they escalate. She points out that “if there is a dispute that the community or community members are aware of, they can contact the restorative justice centre or the field officer, and the parties can be contacted so that the process can begin before it escalates into a serious offence.”
Ms. Carey notes that at the post-charge/pre-trial referral stage, the Clerk of Court or the Resident Magistrate will refer certain minor cases to the centre to facilitate the administration of the restorative justice process prior to the matter going to trial.
The third referral point – post-conviction/pre-sentence – facilitates the victim’s input prior to sentencing, by allowing them to make a statement during the restorative justice process “which can possibly impact on the sentencing hearing.”
Ms. Carey stresses that the final referral point – post-sentencing – is an important aspect of the programme, as it assists with the reintegration of the perpetrators into their communities.
She expresses hope that implementation of the process, particularly the final referral stage, will, in the long run, serve, as best as is possible, to diffuse the likelihood of reprisals occurring by patching differences between disputing parties and, thereby, reduce the frequency with acts of vengeance take place.
The process of implementing restorative justice has also seen the Ministry forging partnerships and collaborations with key stakeholders. These include : the police, courts, correctional services, communities, and volunteers from the pilot communities. This, in an effort to encourage a shared understanding of the process. An integral part of this collaborative approach has been the provision of training for all key stakeholders.
Ms. Carey informs that, currently, there are some 80 committed volunteers from the pilot communities who have been trained as Restorative Justice Facilitators. These volunteers, she adds, attended a scheduled four-month training programme covering key topics. These include : ‘An Introduction to the Criminal Justice System in Jamaica’; ‘Facilitating the Restorative Justice Process’; ‘Working with Victims of Harm and Offenders’; ‘Communication and Conflict Management’; ‘Offender Management’; ‘Case Management’; and ‘Clientele Diversity’.
Sensitisation sessions have also been conducted in the target communities in an effort to ensure that the residents support the restorative justice process. The Ministry also holds regular sensitisation sessions with other key institutional stakeholders.
“We have sensitised the probation officers and correctional officers from the Department of Corrections; police officers from the highest rank of commanding officers to rank and file officers; attorneys from the Bar Association of Jamaica and the Advocates Association; principals and guidance counsellors within our pilot communities; as well as staff of the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Justice,” she informs
Ms. Carey adds that the sensitisation efforts will be expanded so that other stakeholders, and the society at large, will become fully aware of and familiar with the restorative justice process.