JIS News

An Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth. The ancient Mosaic Law appears to be the deciding factor propelling our conflict resolution processes in the underground subculture of Jamaica.
How many times have we heard news reports bearing common quotes such as “the assailant was set up on by angry residents who severely chopped and beat him to death.”
Noting the lengths a community will pursue in an attempt to right the wrongs of their fellow victims signals heartfelt emotion. Such acts clearly show that whether you are directly or indirectly involved in a petty or violent crime, you are affected psychologically and therefore driven by obligation to right that wrong.
However the reality of the justice system here and abroad is that not enough regard is given for the restitution of victims or the community. The prevailing sentiment is that the wrong done is an act against the state and so the courts’ duty is to uphold the law. Towards this end the criminal justice system strives to find out what laws have been broken? Who did it? And what punishment is sufficient for the crime committed; The long term effects the deed will have on individuals, groups and organizations are not factors in the prosecutorial process.
In the appropriate circles this traditional type of justice is usually termed Customary Justice.Customary Justice defined is the “processes of Adjudication and arbitration responding to conflicts or criminal events in order to protect rights or reestablish access to rights according to the laws of the land. The process of sentencing and judgment are also defined according to these established laws and are handed down by authorized third parties (judges).”
Our present legal system unwittingly pits the offender and the victim against each other promoting leading professionals as mediators between the two. Dialogue between these parties, during and sometimes even after the trial of the case, is neither encouraged nor advised. What this does is to alienate the two parties leaving several issues between them unresolved.
It is heartrending to think that even in the midst of a crime committed in reality the offender is still a part of the crucial balance of interlocking relationships.
The committing of the act is just a stark reminder that something has gone wrong in this web of relationships and this rupture is in need of immediate repair.
It is this need for healing that practitioners of this philosophy Restorative Justice now widely gaining popularity, seek to address these crucial elements of need which resides in the human psyche; eliminating the gap between offender, victim and community . It does not seek to eliminate the justice system but is complementary.
Restorative Justice or Relational Justice “sees conflict and crime events not only as breaches of rules or norms but also and more importantly harm caused to relationships between people and within communities. It therefore, intentionally, seeks to support healing of the harms caused first in the lives of victims and the community while holding offenders accountable for contributing where possible to mitigating the impacts of their actions.”
The goal of Restorative Justice is to provide healing for all parties involved. It takes into consideration the needs of three major stakeholders otherwise ignored by a typical judicial system and these are as follows: The Victim, the Offender and the Community at large.
The opportunities for the implementation of the Restorative Justice philosophy are endless:
In our victim care groups such as the Victim Support Programme and Overcomers which are established because the legal system does not address these needs.
Mediation which is already widely practice in Jamaica
Structuring Community Sentence orders to help offenders face up to the impacts of their work on the assets that could create for them a life as a respected citizen
Offender Reintegration Panels-involving community members including victims in planning for the release of offenders from prison as well as post release accountability and support.
Circles -bringing together victims and persons who care about an offender to develop a plan for solving the problems which arise from the commission of a crime. Or family members to agree on a plan of action to divert a juvenile away from a deviant lifestyle.
These circles, with the implementation of Restorative Justice as part of their programme, provide conflict dialogue which accommodates positive outlets for all three stakeholders to meet on common ground and to facilitating healing and restoration of relationships where possible.
There are three concepts governing the philosophy of Restorative Justice. It focuses on the harm done not only to the victim but to the community and set out to address the needs of these stakeholders according to the violation committed, whether or not the violator is held responsible under the law.
It realizes and highlights that when a person’s rights are violated the offender has an obligation to directly compensate the victim based on the needs of that victim. The victim may have the need and the right to information about the details of the crime which only the offender can provide. This, you will note, is of a non-financial nature and may help victims to come to terms with what has happened to them.
Restorative Justice also promotes the participation of all three, consequently; the victim will be empowered by being actively involved in their own case instead of having to face the unrepentant offender in court unable to voice his or her opinions and feelings on the matter.
Within Restorative Justice Circles the needs of the offenders are addressed. They are encouraged to empathize with their victims as they hear and see first hand the consequences of their actions affecting another human being; they are invited to participate in their own healing as we are aware that violators were once violated themselves. As a result the reentry into the community is made that much easier for the offender who truly repents as the community becomes both witness and facilitator to these changes.
An unknown author once said “I sought my soul but my soul I could not see; I sought my God but my God eluded me; I sought my brother and found all three.” Can Jamaica at this junction in its history forgive our brother seventy times seventy times seven? Are we as a country inclined to have offenders of the law, and the community, back in our neighborhoods?