Feature
American Fulbright Scholar and Associate Professor of Law at Gongza University, Inga Laurent, addresses the 10th Conference on Restorative Justice, held recently at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston
Photo: Michael Sloley

Story Highlights

  • Associate Professor of Law at Gongza University in the United States (US), Inga Laurent, is praising the Government for the progress made in pushing restorative justice as a means of reducing conflict and maintaining peace in communities.
  • She notes the various initiatives implemented under the Ministry of Justice to build capacity and increase awareness about restorative justice in schools and communities.
  • “I was here a year and a half ago and I’ve come back and I see the progress they’ve made in such a short time and I’m amazed,” she says.

Associate Professor of Law at Gongza University in the United States (US), Inga Laurent, is praising the Government for the progress made in pushing restorative justice as a means of reducing conflict and maintaining peace in communities.

She notes the various initiatives implemented under the Ministry of Justice to build capacity and increase awareness about restorative justice in schools and communities.

“I was here a year and a half ago and I’ve come back and I see the progress they’ve made in such a short time and I’m amazed,” she says.

“It’s clear to see the rising tides of restorative justice sweeping across Jamaica. The Government is sensitising, building capacity and providing training,” she notes.

“I think under this Minister (Hon. Delroy Chuck) and the people who have moved restorative justice to the front of the line, if they stay committed to this cause (Jamaica) can move forward,” Ms. Laurent adds.

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

This community-based approach to the administration of justice places focus on rehabilitation as a means of reducing the rate of re-offending.

The Government is pushing restorative justice as a peaceful way of settling disputes.

Nine restorative justice centres have been established across the island since the passing of the Restorative Justice Act in 2016. In addition, 14 parish centres for the training of facilitators are being set up with facilities already established in St. Ann and Portland.

Increasingly, the courts are referring cases to be dealt with by way of restorative justice methods in order to reduce backlog. A total of 637 of the 810 restorative justice dispute sessions held between January and December 2018, were cases referred from the courts.

Over the one year period, the Restorative Justice Unit conducted several training and sensitisation sessions with key stakeholders, while disputing parties are brought together in restorative justice conferences to resolve their differences.

The 810 conferences held ended in 691 agreements, reflecting an 85.3 per cent success rate.

It is projected that for the 2019 calendar year, the Restorative Justice Unit will conduct training sessions for some 1,500 beneficiaries including school administrators, justices of the peace, members of the clergy, probation officers, and the police.

Ms. Laurent, who studied restorative justice for nine months at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona through a Fulbright Scholarship from the American Embassy, has since published a research paper titled: ‘Empowerment Over Imprisonment: Moving the Hearts and Minds of the People of Jamaica and the United States from Retributive to Restorative Justice.’

Her study identifies ways in which Jamaica can use restorative justice practices to improve the justice system and reintegrate offenders into society by providing a sense of healing for both victims and offenders.

She notes that in order for the Government to continue to move forward with restorative justice, confidence in the justice system by citizens must be strengthened.

“Restorative justice or any means of citizen engagement in Government must vest each citizen with a sense of magistracy that makes everyone feel like they have duties towards society to fulfil. We need to get people back into the fold so all of us are taking responsibility for the Jamaica that we want,” she points out.

Ms. Laurent acknowledges that it would be euphoric to expect the current justice system to retrofit and become completely concerned with restorative justice practices. However, she believes both a punitive and restorative justice model can co-exist.

“I think we can have a traditional judicial system and a restorative justice system that works in tandem and that is strengthened by one another. Both systems are necessary but when you value one and devalue the other then there is no leeway,” she argues.

Ms. Laurent says she is excited that more schools in Jamaica are adopting restorative justice practices.

She cities a 2016 study, which showed that local teachers started doing better when they used such principles in their classrooms.

“Restorative justice can provide new narratives aimed at interrupting the violence and strengthening community ties,” she points out.

Ms. Laurent describes restorative justice as “a process of repair.”

She says her dedication to the practice was motivated by the suicide of a close friend, who had served time in prison in the US and felt “trapped” by the stigma he faced as a result of his incarceration.

“Now I look for every and any opportunity to do work to bring humans back to themselves; work that equalizes and removes the stigmas people go through,” she shares.

Ms. Laurent was in Jamaica for Restorative Justice Week from February 3 to 9.

The week of activities included youth fora and empowerment sessions across the island, and the staging of the 10th Restorative Justice Conference at the Spanish Court Hotel in St. Andrew, where Professor Laurent delivered the keynote address.