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JIS News

The Ministry of Justice is targeting young people, non-governmental organizations and communities as a whole, as it continues the process of educating stakeholders on the benefits of restorative justice. The campaign will be enhanced through the first of three Opportunity Fairs to be held on July 6.
Senior Communications Officer in the Ministry of Justice, Michael Cohen told JIS News that the objectives of the fair, which will be held at the Girls Guide Association of Jamaica headquarters on Waterloo Road, are to “broaden the awareness of what restorative justice is and to get people involved in restorative justice, to exercise and institutionalize restorative justice in our way of life in communities across the island”.
Presenters have been drawn from various aspects of the justice system and the community, including trained restorative justice practitioner and trainer, Don Johnson from the United States. Also presenting will be Dispute Resolution Foundation Executive Director, Donna Parchment on the topic: ‘Improving the perceived quality and community ownership of restorative justice’, while Peace and Love in Schools (PALS) will do a presentation themed: ‘Building Peaceful Schools’.
In addition, there will be presentations from the troubled communities of Flankers in St. James and August Town in Kingston. The communities will explore the function of restorative justice circles, that is, the persons involved in bringing restorative justice to a community, and facilitating healing and justice in communities, by community actors.
The Church will also play its part, covering the topic, ‘Reflection, healing, the role of the church’. The Police and the Correctional Services will be involved and there will be two caucus sessions, to look at various aspects of restorative justice. Outlining the work of the Ministry in facilitating restorative justice, where possible, and educating the public about the concept, Mr. Cohen said the global definition of restorative justice was a deliberate effort among communities to “right the wrong done to the victims”.
“Often it is not just the victim who suffers, but also the community depending on the type of crime,” he explains. At the 11th meeting of the United Nations Commission on Criminal Justice and Crime Prevention in Vienna in April 2002, a Resolution was passed that placed restorative justice officially on the international map.
The Commission discussed basic principles on the use of restorative justice programmes in criminal matters, based on the findings of an expert group report, which followed a meeting hosted by the Government of Canada in 2001. The principles set out that restorative justice may be used at any stage of the criminal justice system, subject to national law, and recommends that Member States establish guidelines and standards to govern the use of restorative justice programmes.
Mr. Cohen said during the past year, extensive research had been done to “get it right for the Jamaican conditions”.
“What we have found is that there are some aspects of the justice system, which contains elements of restorative justice and one of the most obvious one is the Community Service Order handed down by the court for minor offences, where the offender, having been found guilty, is dedicated a certain number of hours. He is supervised and he does what is assigned to him, working in an infirmary or any kind of public institution or public space,” he noted.
Another element of restorative justice is the Drug Court where, for minor offences, drug addicts are mandated to do some kind of community work with the understanding that if during this period they commit an offence, they will be penalised.
Mr. Cohen said while the Ministry, in collaboration with other agencies and groups, was trying to institutionalise restorative justice within the Jamaican society for certain offences, it was “not intended to replace the current justice system”.
“The current justice system by nature, doesn’t allow for interaction between the offender and the victim. Restorative justice facilitates that,” he said.Mr. Cohen noted that to this end, legislation was being drafted to have restorative justice institutionalised. So far, an Action Plan has been drafted and refined to, over the next six months, educate the public and carry out consultations within the society.
“It can work, it’s really an institutionalization of old Jamaican values and practices for a better Jamaica. Through constant practice, it has preventive measures, especially for the youth who may be so inclined to commit repeated offences,” he said, adding that “once the community gets involved and shows him or her the errors of their ways, then hopefully, they will see that it is not just a person they have offended, but the community at large and that they will have none of it”.
“We need people on the ground. It is not a state driven initiative as such, the community must get involved,” he argued. Mr. Cohen emphasized that restitution for those who have suffered, was sometimes not financial. “Some people would just like to get the information, so that they can bring closure to what happened. We really hope that the country will embrace it,” he said.