Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding says it is important for Jamaicans to adopt a culture of tolerance and healing, as the country celebrates its 50th year of Independence from Colonial rule.
He explained that part of the aim of the Restorative Justice Programme is to help Jamaicans who have been perpetrators of crime or victims of crime, to resolve their conflicts, thereby perpetuating a culture of healing and acceptance in affected communities.
“Although it’s a small start, this restorative justice programme is a very profound synergistic effort to tie in with the broad thrust of taking Jamaica to a cleaner, holier, better place for us all,” the Minister said.
Senator Golding was speaking at the official opening of the Restorative Justice Centre in Spanish Town, St. Catherine, located at premises owned by the Social Development Commission (SDC), on February 9.
The centre is the third of four restorative justice centres, earmarked under a pilot project being undertaken by the Ministry in communities across the island, to be opened since the start of this week.
On Monday (February 6) and Tuesday (February 7), similar facilities were opened at Tower Hill, St. Andrew and May Pen, Clarendon, respectively, while another is slated to be launched in Granville, St. James, on Friday (February 10). The move forms part of activities by the Ministry to mark Restorative Justice Week from February 5 to 11, under the theme: ‘One People, One Spirit, One Justice’.
Mr. Golding said the essence of the programme is to give those who have committed acts that have hurt others in their communities, the opportunity to go through a voluntary process to make amends and restore the fractured relationships. “(They will have the chance) to acknowledge their wrongs, to make it right and thereby, if they go through that process, to avoid the criminal liability that would otherwise face them through the formal court system,” he explained.
He further noted that this is a paradigm shift in how the justice system has approached crime and violence in the past, “and it integrates with our history and where we want to go as a nation."
“I really hope that this programme will be sustained and will indeed grow to become a national programme and a permanent part of our system of justice for which our people cry for on a daily basis,” Mr. Golding said.
The Justice Minister urged the residents of Spanish Town and its environs to make use of the centre and to make it an important part of the community. “Let it span all political and other divides and let it be a source of unity and strength for the community,” he encouraged.
He noted that the aim of the pilot project is to learn from the various challenges which might arise, so that at the end of the process, the Ministry and its agencies and departments, would have developed a truly Jamaican approach to restorative justice. “One that is practical and integrated in our reality and culture and one that we can roll out on a national basis,” he said.
According to Mr. Golding, if the process is successful, it will help the country’s formal criminal justice system by allowing many cases, which could be best served outside of the system, to achieve reconciliation and solution. “It would be better for those who have done the wrong and it would be better for those who have been wronged,” he said.
By Athaliah Reynolds, JIS Reporter