By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI
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“…the Church proposes a form of justice that is humanising, genuinely reconciliatory, a justice that leads the wrongdoer, through an educative path of encouraged penance, to rehabilitation and total reinsertion in the community.” (Pope Francis)
A Catholic approach to restorative justice “recognizes that the dignity of the human person applies to both victim and offender” (US bishops). We live in a violent society. Every day the media assail our senses with news of violence/disharmony/disputes. While we thrash around in an effort to find solutions, there are tried and tested solutions staring us in the face.
In 2014, I was invited to write an article for a publication by the then Ministry of Justice. The publication, entitled: Restorative Justice and us: Towards Policy and Practice was published as a newspaper pull-out and was circulated widely. It highlighted “feature stories from both Public Sector and Civil Society organisations on programs, projects and initiatives which are related to the principles of Restorative Justice.” Sadly, like so many worthwhile initiatives, it died a natural death.
CCSJ is seeking to raise the public’s awareness of this important process. We have partnered with the Faculty of Law, UWI, and will host a symposium on Saturday, June 9 at the Noor Hassanali Auditorium, UWI, St Augustine Campus from 2 to 4.30 p.m. on the theme: Understanding and promoting Restorative Justice. Entry is free. Please come and join in the discussion. Light refreshments will be served.
Speakers include: Archbishop Jason Gordon; Hazel Thompson-Ahye, Attorney-at-Law & Licensed Trainer in Restorative Practices (see page 2, CN May 20); Ceron Richards, President of the Prison Officers’ Association; Alloy Youk See, Social Worker, Mediator, former Welfare Officer, Prison Service; and me. Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Dean of the Faculty of Law, will be the Moderator.
Tony Marshall (1999) defines Restorative Justice (RJ) as “a process whereby parties with a stake in a specific offence collectively resolve how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future”.
It is important to acknowledge the value of RJ for all aspects of life in T&T. It can prevent minor conflicts from escalating. As Lode Walgrave says in his book: Restorative Justice, Self-interest Responsible Citizenship: “The application of its principles is spreading far beyond criminal matters, penetrating the regulation of disputes and problems of discipline in schools, neighbourhood conflicts, child welfare and protection matters, labour and business regulation, and even the resolution of conflicts involving systematic political violence.”
RJ focuses on holding the offender accountable in a more meaningful way. It repairs the harm caused by the offence, helps to reintegrate the offender into the community and helps to achieve a sense of healing for both the victim and the community.
It encourages offenders to understand the real human consequences of their actions. It places the responsibility for the crime squarely in the hands of those who commit the offence.
The watchwords of an RJ approach lie at the heart of Christian living e.g. repentance, reparation, restoration, reconciliation, rehabilitation, empowerment, and re-integration with a sense of responsibility.
RJ is not a panacea for all our ills. An RJ Policy cannot ‘stand’ on its own but must be linked effectively with others. There is no quick fix to our social ills. Since the causes of crime are many and varied, we need an integrated/multi- disciplinary/cross sector approach to address deficiencies e.g. the stumbling blocks in the criminal justice system, lack of a forensic approach to crime fighting, an inadequate prison system/police service etc. We must re-engineer the criminal justice system and focus more on the underlying causes of crime rather than on its symptoms.
Last November, then T&T President Anthony Carmona “lamented what he describes as a ‘revolving-door’ criminal justice system which does not rehabilitate offenders but rather produces hardened criminals. He said an overhaul of the current system was necessary to properly address changes in crime and criminality” (Newsday).
Let’s create a culture in which RJ can prosper. It will take some time to move from a culture of retribution/punishment to one of healing/restoration, but it is possible to make this shift. We can draw on past experiences of some ethnic groups, such as the Indian community which practised the Panchayat system.
For RJ to work effectively, all stakeholders need to ‘buy-in’ to the concept. But to do so, one must be aware of what it entails. Please join us at the symposium. Contact me on 299-8945 for further information.