The Full Story
More Jamaicans are buying into the benefits of restorative justice (RJ) in healing interpersonal relationships and bringing communities together.
Director for the Restorative Justice Branch in the Ministry of Justice, Joanalee Robinson, tells JIS News that attitudes towards retributive justice are changing due to intervention programmes like RJ.
Retributive justice is the system of criminal justice that focuses on the punishment of the offender in proportion to the offence committed.
RJ goes further by holding the offender accountable in a more meaningful way.
It focuses on repairing the harm caused by the offence, helping to reintegrate the offender into the community and achieving a sense of healing for both the victim and the community.
It is also seen as an important tool in reducing violence, by enabling individuals to have access to a dispute resolution process at the early stage of conflict to avoid escalation to violent reactions.
“Based on testimonials from our clients, Jamaicans are starting to appreciate that an eye for an eye is not necessarily justice,” Mrs. Robinson tells JIS News.
“Justice is what provides you with the satisfaction that you have been properly vindicated for the wrong which has been done against you. Sometimes, for individuals, their justice is an apology or accountability; their justice is for the person who caused the harm to acknowledge what they’ve done. Some persons might be more towards the retributive approach, but a lot of Jamaicans are saying ‘we have to be more forward-thinking’,” she points out.
She says that with RJ, families that have been broken due to conflict, abuse or other forms of harm have been healed and reconnected with each other, indicating the effectiveness to the programme.
“Persons are receptive to the platform where they can sit down and speak. In fact, as a success story, I recall us having a family where they live right beside each other and have not spoken in more than 10 years.
“They came into the space, sat in the circle, and got to share with each other what would have happened for the relationship to have broken down, how they have been affected and how they want to move forward. We watched them walking away hugging, crying, feeling relieved, feeling as though a weight or burden has been lifted off their shoulders, and that is what restorative justice does. It is justice that heals,” the RJ Director emphasises.
RJ services are available through the 20 centres that the Ministry operates islandwide, which are staffed with trained restorative justice officers and facilitators and community supporters.
Persons are referred for RJ services through the courts or by the police.
They can also visit the centres for assistance in settling interpersonal conflicts.
Mrs. Robinson tells JIS News that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is a key partner in the RJ programme.
“We have other members of the JCF who are trained in restorative practices. Some of these individuals have embarked on the training as restorative justice facilitators,” she notes.
“We also continue to partner through our various police youth clubs on initiatives they are having. We sometimes have community walk-throughs with members of the JCF, especially when there is an upsurge of crime, to promote the message of peace and harmony, because we want Jamaicans in every nook and cranny of Jamaica to know and to access the services,” she notes.
The services of the RJ Branch are provided at no cost to participants and are also considered to be a much faster way to access justice than through the formal court system.
“Naturally, for restorative justice, depending on the type of [issue], your matter can be resolved in a matter of few days, it can be resolved in a week. If it is a case where we might need to do extended meetings, it might take an additional time, but our commitment on the ground is that as soon as the matters come in, we do our best to facilitate in a timely manner. As a result of that, we find cases where results are much faster than in the court,” Mrs. Robertson says.
Restorative Justice Officer at the Tivoli Gardens RJ Centre, Saccsha Ebanks, tells JIS News that parents and families who utilise the services of the Centre see it as a safe and supportive space to address issues with their children.
“So, mothers will take their children to the Centre just to talk to their child about the choices that they’re making and how those can cause a downward spiral or take them towards the life of crime,” she notes.
Ms. Ebanks points out that the RJ process is guided along and supported by trained and empowered individuals such as Justices of the Peace, councillors, religious leaders and educators.
The Restorative Justice Branch also works closely with other entities to support the process.
“For example, the Victim Services Division in our Ministry, they are the ones that will treat with the psychosocial issues coming out of the victim’s needs. Then, we might have other entities such as the police, who might assist us with other aspects. It’s a multi-prong approach as each person has a stake in the agreement and its successful implementation and execution,” she says.
Ms. Ebanks tells JIS News that while the programme enjoys an 80 per cent success rate, more work is needed to reach the remaining 20 per cent, noting that very deep and complex issues are often at the heart of the conflicts.
“We were talking with a father and a son, and they have a matter that is referred by the court. However, there are deeper issues that are at play in the conflict, such as childhood abuse, isolation, and trauma that the son experienced and has made the resolution all the more difficult for the son, who didn’t want to open up. And so, we have found that, yes, we have a success rate of 80 per cent but that 20 per cent is still bleeding and are in need of healing,” she highlights.
To learn more about the Restorative Justice programme or to locate the RJ centre nearest to you, contact the Ministry of Justice by calling the toll-free number 888-JUSTICE (587-8423) or visit their website at www.moj.gov.jm.