Jamaica’s Justice minister Delroy Chuck suggests neighbouring Caribbean countries consider introducing restorative justice – as early as at the secondary school level – as a means of resolving conflicts, rebuilding relationships and avoiding further acts of violence from a crisis.
He was speaking on the final day of the two-day regional symposium on violence as a public health issue at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain, on Tuesday morning.
Chuck said, if more governments used restorative justice, it would make a huge dent in the level of violent crime across the region.
Chuck said Jamaica’s restorative justice programme, founded in 2018, has had an 80 per cent success rate.
Since the launch of the programme, Jamaica has commissioned 20 restorative justice centres – one in each parish – with plans to have another two more opened.
“From 1,022 restorative justice circles in 2018 to 3,662 cases in 2020, more than eight out of every ten cases have been successfully completed. Which means the parties are satisfied with the outcome and the community or the court sanctions outcomes as acceptable and agreeable."
Of the 75 per cent of cases referred by the court to the restorative justice programme centres, 90 per cent have been resolved, Chuck said.
He explained, “In 2021 and 2022, 4,460 cases were referred to restorative justice by the courts. Of this, 3,904 cases were satisfactorily resolved, which oftentimes means the charges are withdrawn or the offenders admonished and discharged or, in various departments, come to a mutual understanding. And that is why we refer to restorative justice as justice that heals.”
Chuck described the approach as a remarkable and outstanding success to resolve issues settling disagreements and de-escalate conflicts.
“It is these minor disputes misguided disagreements and unresolved conflicts that, in many instances, escalate into brutish abuses, serious violence and can have fatal consequences."
He said restorative justice had been proven to be of significant curative value in Jamaica.
“When matters are referred to the restorative justice centres, facilitators are appointed to meet separately with the alleged wrongdoer who frequently denies culpability and with the victim oftentimes seeking retributive justice.
“The alleged wrongdoer is encouraged and persuaded to acknowledge and accept that his or her verbal abuses or actions are wrong, and that the wrongdoing has caused pain and suffering to the victim. If this is accomplished, the process is more than 50 per cent completed. The next challenge is to encourage the victim to forgive the wrongdoer who has hopefully acknowledged and accepted that he or she was wrong.
“If that is accomplished, then a restorative justice circle is arranged in which the two sides are brought together, along with other members of the community, school, church, workplace, or just friends of both parties. It is in these circles, that issues are addressed, the motions are calmed, and contentious matters settled,” Chuck explained.
He said his ministry planned to host restorative practice seminars in over 1,000 schools and over 40,000 churches in Jamaica. So far, it has done 300 schools and hopes to do 500 more schools this year.
Also contributing to community-focused approaches to tackling crime, Barbados’ minister of state in the office of the attorney general with responsibility for crime Corey Lane said economic opportunities and empowerment were major factors.
Lane said the region must let go of the existing enforcement-prosecution-incarceration systems and adopt a presentation-intervention-rehabilitation ideology incorporated with other community-based programmes.
National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said TT’s system caters to those influenced by crime.
He said residential programmes and other youth rehabilitation initiatives, in collaboration with communities, protective service, and defense force members have proven to successfully reduce gang and criminal activities.