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Story Highlights

  • The Government has been pushing for the use of alternative dispute resolutions such as restorative justice as a means of reducing conflict and maintaining the peace within communities.
  • Restorative Justice is a process whereby all the parties with a stake in an offence come together to collectively resolve the conflict and to reintegrate the offender into the community.
  • It is also a different way of thinking about crime and conflict, with the emphasis placed on repairing the harm caused.

The Government has been pushing for the use of alternative dispute resolutions such as restorative justice as a means of reducing conflict and maintaining the peace within communities.

Restorative Justice is a process whereby all the parties with a stake in an offence come together to collectively resolve the conflict and to reintegrate the offender into the community.

It is also a different way of thinking about crime and conflict, with the emphasis placed on repairing the harm caused.

Speaking with JIS News, Restorative Justice Coordinator, Andriene Lindsay, said restorative justice is more than an intervention, as the process facilitates healing.

“Restorative justice is really a process where all parties involved in an offence get the opportunity to sit down together and talk about what happened, and the victim gets the chance to speak about how they’ve been affected by the crime. Then the offender gets to hear how their actions really impact the victim and the wider community as well,” Ms. Lindsay explained.

A healing and talking circle can also be held to focus on a common concern in order to aid in healing, as well as a sentencing circle, which is used to arrive at a sentencing plan for an offender.

Ms. Lindsay informed that sessions called restorative justice conferences are arranged, which are guided by restorative justice facilitators.

“Participants are free to bring someone to support them, say for example, a sister, brother a partner or just another community member to speak on how it has impacted on them and the community as a whole,” she said.

“We do have something that we call a talking piece, where everyone is given a turn to speak freely and openly without interruptions, with no questions being asked. It’s really about what happened? How were you feeling at the time? How have you felt since? And what would you like to see happen now? So it’s about the past the present and looking to the future,” she added.

Beneficiary of the programme Brenda Evelyn said restorative justice “found her” after it was recommended by law enforcement to deal with her situation.

Ms. Evelyn recalls the moment when things began ‘turning sour’ between her and the offender.

“Funny enough, we were good friends before… when she had only a few goats she used to bring them at the same spot and leave them and sometimes I would have to go and take them out the road. Not only were the goats a nuisance, she (the offender) would abuse me right, left and centre. Call me names; yes, very abusive,” she explained.

Ms. Evelyn told JIS News that she made complaints regarding the destruction of her property, as a result of the increased number of goats brought by their owner to graze on an empty community lot beside her home.

She noted that her bean vines and palms became delicacies for the hungry goats, which desired not to live on grass alone.

After discovering the damage and making several reports to the police in the St. Mary community where she resides, Ms. Evelyn said the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method was recommended by law enforcement.

“They called me to the Restorative Justice Centre and the lady there, Ms. Lindsay, interviewed me and I told her my story and apparently she had seen the offender, so she had heard their story,” Ms. Evelyn explained.

Owner of the goats, Vickie Flowers, said when she got the call to attend the restorative justice sessions, her initial reaction was “Oh God! Mi gone a courthouse now”.

She decided to attend the conference out of understanding that if she were on the other side of the fence, she would have been the victim.

“I had no problem being in the same room, because it’s not like we were enemies, so it’s not like somebody that you would want to see and be offensive to or anything. I was sorry that I really had to go overboard to say something that she wouldn’t like to hear, because she and I used to be friends, somebody I would talk to, so it really wasn’t an issue for me,” Ms. Flowers said.

The victim, Ms. Evelyn, said Ms. Flowers, apologised and it made her feel better, as she could sense her sincerity and desire to move forward.

She also said after going through the process, she found using restorative justice as a more peaceful, private and humane way to deal with issues and also more affordable than going through the courts.

“I think it’s a good procedure, because it’s a community thing and it’s a neighbourly situation most of the time. I would recommend it because when you go to restorative justice, you have your say completely, so each one knows where the other one is coming from. The court doesn’t have the time to hear a long drawn-out story of your conflict or your problem… . This gave me an opportunity to defend myself,” Ms. Evelyn explained.

As for Ms. Flowers, she said since the process has ended, she has interacted with Ms. Evelyn in a civil manner, which was very different to how they related to each other before the intervention.

“For me it was very useful. It’s good when you can talk because maybe if we hadn’t been as ignorant about the situation before, and we sat and tried to talk, it could have been resolved. The ability to sit and talk makes a difference,” Ms. Flowers said.

Meanwhile, Community Liaison Officer for the Restorative Justice Centre in St. Mary, Wanel Alexander, said most of the cases are referred from the courts.

“The police fall in second (in terms of the amount of cases referred) and then we get cases from schools. We are also getting cases now from self-referrals. The majority of those who seek restorative justice support from the self-referral aspect, if the other persons were informed or willing to come we would have gotten a lot more cases, but to convince the second party is always going to be the challenge,” Mr. Alexander said.

“This is because one, restorative justice does not take the initiative; it’s not our jurisdiction to take the initiative to call the second person when that first report is made, so we normally encourage them to go to the police,” he explained.

In Jamaica, restorative justice is guided by a National Restorative Justice Policy that outlines the governing Protocols. The Ministry of Justice has the responsibility for the overall implementation and administration of the National Restorative Justice Programme.

To access restorative justice services, persons can contact the police for self-referrals or call 876-908-5527 or email restorative.justice@moj.gov.jm.

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