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Monday 19 November 2018
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Commentary

Restorative vs punitive justice

DR MARGARET NAKHID-CHATOOR

MUCH LEGAL terminology suggests that justice is blind and is meted out objectively, impartially, without favour to anyone, regardless of a person’s income, power or social class. This is what we believe is done, even if erroneously so. What is less obvious to many is that the dispensation of justice is also dependent to some extent on the culture of a society and its value systems.

TT society is a hangover from the colonial era with its specific racial and political biases, an era that was punitive, dominant and retributive, especially to the lower social classes. So it begs the question: will justice continue to be meted out in punishments to those who violate it, responding to the original harm with more harm rather than as restorative and rehabilitative for individuals and their families?

Restorative justice allows offenders to take responsibility and to acknowledge the impact that their actions have had on their victims and loved ones. It seeks to unify the family structure rather than to sever the attachment bonds between parent and child, so crucial for the long-term development of the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.

Two recent cases of concern were the mother of three young children imprisoned for 12 months for possession of 230 grams of marijuana and a father fined $6K for allegedly attempting to cure his children’s asthma with ganja tea.

Referring to these situations, the Express editorial (August 7) cogently argued that “the quality of justice served in both cases is open to debate” … as “judicial imagination can come to the rescue” and “a programme of education may serve greater purpose than the punishment of jail and the separation of child from parent.”

I agree with this opinion. The mental health and stability of our society relies on our insightful ability to take a close look at our justice system with wisdom and temperance, in an attempt to balance the scales of justice in a humane way. What about community service for these offenders and counselling and social services for their families? How can our businessmen and community stakeholders be involved here?

The collapse of any society, in my opinion, begins with the breakdown in the structure of the family and in an education system that fails to recognise that children who are traumatised and parted from families will cease to learn or to cognitively attend in the classroom.

These children are often misdiagnosed as intellectually deficient or learning challenged, when in many instances there is no motivation or desire to learn on their part. Their emotional states are in a constant state of arousal as they are unsure of what next to expect in their immediate families divided by loss, imprisonment or separation.

One mother related that she would stand on the PBR with her two young children when she knew that the van transporting her jailed husband was passing, so that they could catch a glimpse of their father.

Another parent in jail for murder had a cell phone relationship with his rebellious son whom he would call often and attempt to “discipline” him from prison. Are prisoners allowed cell phones? Can there be a better way to maintain relationships between parent and child, for the benefit of the child and their loved ones?

As we have seen in recent times, the changes in the Constitution re sodomy and child marriage laws allow us to believe that laws can change as interpretations of the human condition change for the better.

This augers well for the future. Restorative justice must be strategic and can pave the way for rehabilitation and reduced recidivism in this society, not only in our prisons but also in our schools. Especially in our schools! Suspensions and expulsions must give way to more holistic practices for students.

While there should be consequences for actions, these must lend towards restoring our offenders, both young and old, to understanding their actions and regaining their dignity and sense of self. Punitive and harsh methods should have little place in a society that is transformative and based on an agenda of social justice.

Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor is a clinical and educational psychologist and president of the TT Association of Psychologists

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