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Justice Minister and Attorney General, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, has emphasised the need for the society to find alternative ways of resolving conflicts and delivering justice, other than resorting to violence.
Speaking at the launch of the Restorative and Community Justice Pilot Project in Granville, St. James, at the Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College, earlier this week, Senator Lightbourne lamented the high number of minor dispute cases that were before the courts, which she contended, could be settled outside of that jurisdiction.
“The social and interpersonal relationships within our society have broken down over the years. To address the matter of crime and justice in Jamaica, it must be done against the background of the values exhibited in our heritage. Delivering justice will require a cultural shift from violence and crime as the means of dealing with conflict, towards community reconciliation, empowerment and equipping citizens and communities with new and peaceful means of resolving conflicts,” she said.
In this regard, Senator Lightbourne stressed that strengthening public trust and confidence in the justice system was one of the “strategic objectives” of the Ministry, adding that the restorative and community justice process was one of the methods being used. This, she explained, was a community process which invited and facilitated full stakeholder participation and consensus that, “heals what has been broken, seeks full and direct accountability, bridges what has been divided, and strengthens the community to prevent further harm.”
“Its aim is to strengthen the community by giving it a voice on what community punishment orders should be imposed, such as community service projects, and ensuring that they are transparent and beneficial. The involvement of the community in decision making is one of the things that makes this very different,” the Minister argued.
She added that community ownership of restorative justice complements the formal criminal justice system which, she contended, would in turn, infuse harmony, peace and safety in the community.
Granville is one of four communities islandwide designated for the restorative and community justice pilot project. The others are: Spanish Town, St. Catherine; May Pen, Clarendon; and Tower Hill, St. Andrew.
Senator Lightbourne informed that 57 community members have already been prepared as trainers in restorative and community justice practices, with another training session slated to be held shortly. She advised that the first pilot restorative and community justice panel for Granville would be established at the community centre. This panel, she outlined, will be chaired by a Justice of the Peace, trained in restorative justice principles and processes, and invited wide-scale citizen participation.
“We are inviting representatives of the community who meet established criteria and have the respect, trust and confidence of the community, to come forward in this pilot project. These citizens will be called upon to represent their community fearlessly and without bias,” the Minister said.
Outlining activities which the community will become engaged in, Senator Lightbourne said these include: changing the culture of “silence” by encouraging the sharing of information, to ensure that offenders are caught and reported to the restorative and community justice panels; supporting the work of the justice system and its agencies and participating in the attendant processes; helping to identify tasks for offenders and supporting rehabilitation and reintegration; improving the safety and well-being of the community as citizens collaborate with the police to prevent and respond to crime; alerting the panel when disputes occur to ensure they don’t escalate; and becoming involved in efforts to tackle problem behaviour within the community, by initiating solutions and contributing, as volunteers, in conflict resolution.
“I anticipate great success for this programme in the community of Granville. We have to make every effort to restore Jamaica through community participation,” Senator Lightbourne asserted.