Restorative Justice Week 2015 Gets Underway!

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The third week of November is here again and that means the start of International Restorative Justice Week!

In a nutshell, Restorative justice (RJ) is a philosophy and an approach that views crime and conflict as harm done to people and relationships. It is a non-adversarial, non-retributive approach to justice that emphasizes healing in victims, accountability of offenders, and the involvement of citizens in creating healthier, safer communities. The goal is to reach meaningful, satisfying, and fair outcomes through inclusion, open communication, and truth.

Restorative Justice enables victims of crime to explain directly how the offenders behaviour has affected them and to seek an explanation from the offender about what they did and why. This process allows victims to feel empowered and to help them move forward with their lives. Restorative Justice does not always replace Criminal Justice proceedings but can work alongside it.

This year, in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean Umbrella Body for Restorative Behaviour (CURB), has adopted the theme: “Communities Caring for Young Offenders” and has partnered with the non-governmental organisation, Caring for Ex-Offenders (CFEO), and the Trinidad and Tobago Prisons Service.

This theme calls us as a nation to revisit how we are addressing youth offending and criminal behaviour. As anti-social behaviour among school age youth increases and legal practitioners question the legitimacy of remanding children to facilities traditionally used for the purposes of youth detention (some of which facilities have been criticised for not being suitable for the purpose), CURB is seeking a commitment from the new Government to rethink how we treat with the issue of youth offending.

It comes on the heels of the commencement of the Juvenile Court Project (being undertaken by the Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the UNDP and USAID), the proclamation of most of the children’s package of legislation and damning reports of the state of affairs at certain children’s homes.

CURB agrees that there is need for the furtherance of the discussion on a National Restorative Justice Policy which commenced in 2014 under the aegis of the former Ministry of Justice. Such a policy must not restrict the understanding or implementation of restorative justice to criminal acts alone, the Prisons environment or to the rehabilitation of offenders.

Rather, it needs to be holistic and identify who has been harmed, which relationships were broken, what needs have arisen as a consequence of the crime or offending behaviour, and who is obligated to help repair the harm. In that context, restorative justice needs to span the length and breath of society in our nation, encompassing the fields of education, social development, health, community development, social services, justice and law enforcement to name a few.

Moreover, the national conversation on the needs of persons who survive criminal attacks must continue beyond token efforts. Last December’s launch of a Victims’ Handbook by the Ministry of Justice cannot be allowed to vanish into political obscurity now that that Ministry has been assimilated into the Ministries of the Attorney General and National Security. The matter of addressing the needs of crime survivors ought not to be a political tool or ploy but it must be regarded as central to our understanding of restorative justice and how we purpose to live as a society.

As CURB commemorates International Restorative Justice Week 2015, we are seeking to elicit an answer from relevant State agencies as to the intention of the new administration in relation to the adoption of restorative justice as a philosophy to transform the criminal justice system; the whereabouts and future of the body of work done in regards to the aforementioned victims’ handbook; the development of a Victims’ Charter; the completion of a National Restorative Justice Policy; the implementation of the Ex-Prisoners Committee Report from 2006, and related matters.

Look out for discussion on these issues and the topic of juvenile justice as we appear on various radio stations during RJ Week. In addition, CURB is partnering with CFEO and the Prisons Service to host an Aftercare Workshop on 18th November which is targeted to community and faith based organisations interested in serving as mentors for young offenders.

Activity Calendar for RJ Week 2015

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CURB Trains School in Restorative Practices.

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To commemorate International Restorative Justice Week 2014, CURB President Adrian Alexander conducted a sensitisation session on restorative justice and restorative practices for a local primary school.

Acting upon the request of a teacher who expressed concern over the behaviour of a pupil, Mr. Alexander was able to speak with staff and parents about the benefits to be derived from restorative practices. Those benefits would enable staff to inculcate pro-social behaviour in the classroom or school environment while using restorative techniques to repair harm caused by at-risk behaviour or reintegrate pupils who might need to be separated from the school population for high risk behaviour, etc.

CURB encourages the Ministry of Education to ensure that in every education district, school staff and student support services staff are exposed to training in restorative practices.

It is evident from what has been happening globally (and with the Department of Education in the USA earlier this year) that this philosophy is the way of the future in addressing behavioural challenges in educational settings.

For information on other activities which took place to commemorate Restorative Justice Week 2014 please click here.

A Review of Day 2 of the Restorative Justice Conference.

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The second day of the Restorative Justice Conference was fruitful in that the true nature and definition of restorative justice were brought to the fore in an unmistakable and undeniable manner.

After the contributions from legal luminaries in the judiciary and from the State and private criminal bar, it was a family law practitioner and restorative practices trainer who brought clarity concerning the need for true restorative justice to be victim centred. She highlighted that pioneers of restorative justice had publicly denounced the myth that offender rehabilitation strategies (though valued and important) were, in and of themselves, “restorative justice”. She had similar enlightenment for those who had over the previous day suggested initiatives such as plea bargaining, community service and victim-offender mediation, as illustrations of “restorative justice”.

Her sterling contribution created a stir among those present, the majority of whom represented the traditional criminal justice system and worked for or volunteered with offender management and offender rehabilitation agencies respectively. It also served as a wake-up call for the officials of the Ministry of Justice which hosted the conference and who would be responsible for charting the course of restorative justice policy in the nation.

After the break, the lone victim representative included in the conference programme rose to speak. Her testimony of her and her family’s journey from their violent home invasion and assaults to present day overcoming was emotional, powerful and truthful. Her words created an imagery in the minds of listeners to envisage the depths to which victimisation can tear at the fabric of an individual’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and pose a threat to their livelihood, financial stability and social relationships for years to come.

The inequity of the focus of the State was highlighted by her victim-survivor testimony as she inquired what efforts and services are available to address the short term and long term effects of victimisation. In concluding her presentation, the speaker made important recommendations for the development of a Victim’s Charter, rules which would govern the media’s treatment of victims, and policies across State agencies and ministries which would assist victims to receive State support for the full spectrum of the harm caused to victims.

Shortly after her powerful presentation, CURB rose to speak to the issues of Formalising the Inclusion of NGOs in the Delivery of Restorative Justice. In seeking to address this question, it was essential to understand what is to be delivered. We used the Mc Cold and Wachtel diagram to reinforce the comments made by the restorative practices trainer and illustrate to the audience the range of initiatives which may be delivered by State and civil society agencies to impact the lives of victims, offenders and their respective families. Through this means, the audience was able to better appreciate that much of the work being done locally and spoken of by previous presenters fell within the ambit of partly restorative initiatives while a few were mostly restorative whereas the most powerful benefits were to be gained from fully restorative systems.

 

RJ Typology - What is available in T&T

We also used the Jon Moode diagram to show the audience what constitutes a restorative justice continuum so that it would be clear which features are present in partially restorative and fully restorative systems. We suggested that the inclusion of NGOs in the delivery of restorative justice be extended to all instances of crime and offending behaviour because of the low rates of detection in the nation. Restricting restorative justice to traditional criminal justice systems means that victims in the majority of cases where there are no offenders apprehended would be denied an opportunity for healing.

 

RJ-Continuum by John Kidde (white)

In closing, we recommended that the process of inclusion of NGOs in the delivery of restorative justice could be accomplished via Memoranda of Understanding with terms which follow the principles and values which are fully restorative. Those include the need to view of NGOs as important stakeholders and to include them as equal partners in the shaping of policy and decisions as to the way forward. It would encompass respect for the contribution that NGOs have made to the development of restorative justice locally and thee strengths they possess, including their valued work and relationships with victims, offenders and the community.

We recommended that such a strategy of inclusion of NGOs would also require that the needs and of NGOs be taken into account so that they be provided with support where necessary to improve their service delivery and systems to comply with agreed national standards for the delivery of restorative justice. In this way, there would be consistently high returns on the work of NGOs and State agencies alike in the delivery of restorative justice throughout the nation.

Finally, we informed the audience that a template for the inclusion of NGOs in addressing crime and re-offending already exists. We referred to the Turning of the Hearts model of restorative offender reintegration which is embodied in the Report of the Ex-Prisoners Committee. The model provides for the presence of widespread community based services to address crime and takes into account public safety and the needs of the victims and offenders and the community in the treatment and reintegration of offenders.

The next few sessions focused on the challenges offenders faced locally and internationally in reintegration into the community. After lunch, there were demonstrations of various restorative justice practices and processes.

The historic two day Restorative Justice Conference hosted by the Ministry of Justice in Trinidad and Tobago has come to an end. In retrospect, the 2-day conference proved that there is need to rethink the direction in which the nation has been heading in the understanding of restorative justice and the development of policy to inform practice of restorative justice. We sincerely hope that the Legal Department of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry itself will continue to collaborate with key and experienced stakeholders in restorative justice as they seek to draft and finalise a national policy on restorative justice.

 

A Review of Day 1 of the Restorative Justice Conference.

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Since the onset of discussions concerning the adoption of the restorative justice philosophy in Trinidad and Tobago, there has been an unhealthy focus on offenders. This arose due to the introduction of the term in the 2002 Penal Reform Task Force Report wherein restorative justice was intended to underpin the transformation of the prison service.

Consequently, most references to restorative justice in the public domain emanated from the Prisons Service and the Ministry of National Security which oversaw the Prisons Service. This was echoed by numerous civil society organisations which run programmes in the prisons and, over time, the term “restorative justice” became a buzzword for those hoping to engage in prison ministry or seeking to reduce the rate of re-offending by offenders.

Over the years, our organization, Caribbean Umbrella Body for Restorative Behaviour (CURB) has been trumpeting the call for “balanced” or “true” restorative justice which holds to the tenets of the pioneers of this philosophy. Through our website, online newsletter and in various fora we sought to educate the Prisons Service, civil society working in the prisons and the national community that true restorative justice is victim centred.

While it was heartening to hear that the Ministry of Justice was hosting a Restorative Justice Conference to further its intention to develop a restorative justice policy for the country, we anticipated that the ancient issues of misinformation about restorative justice would need to be overcome. The agenda of the conference proved to support that concern as most of the local speakers and panellists represented various arms of the traditional criminal justice system and focused on the prosecution, needs, rights and or rehabilitation of offenders. In contrast, only one (1) speaker on the roster was a victim of crime and represented the voice of victims.

As anticipated, on the first day of the conference, many of the local speakers harped on or queried the effectiveness of restorative justice to address the backlog of criminal cases in the judicial system and to reduce the alarmingly high rate of crime in the nation. It seemed that, for them – notwithstanding any formal definition of restorative justice they may have read at the commencement of their presentations – the delivery of restorative justice was centred on the need to transform offenders.

Alarmingly, examples of “restorative justice” initiatives were sought to be given by key officials and, while noble and valuable in impacting offenders or seeking to reform the criminal justice system via reducing bureaucracy, we were concerned that the touted initiatives were not more accurately described as being barely or partly restorative at best.

We were extremely encouraged to listen to the presentations of the speakers who shared the Jamaican and British experiences of introducing restorative justice policy to and developing restorative justice practice in their respective nations. Both speakers emphasised the elements of (a) victim satisfaction with restorative justice initiatives and (b) increased victim referrals of cases to restorative justice agencies, as key features of their national programmes. Moreover, both indicated that the national and cross-political party support which their respective programmes received were due, in no small part, to the fact that restorative justice initiatives were marketed as being of benefit to victims and their families.

In the United Kingdom we were told that the government has voted for more funding for restorative justice in light of research findings that 85 percent of victims who participate in such initiatives report satisfaction with the process. Research also illustrated a collateral benefit to society in terms of a reduction by between 14 to 27 percent (approx.) in rates of re-offending by offenders who participated in the initiatives.

The use of restorative justice in Jamaica was stated as being more widespread than within the criminal justice system as persons are able to access restorative justice services in their communities and in school settings. As a consequence of the benefits they received from the process and their scepticism towards local law enforcement and the convoluted court process, increasing numbers of Jamaicans were relying on these services rather than report crimes to the police and engage with the criminal justice system at all. Below is a diagram of how restorative justice is applied in Jamaica.

RJ plan for Jamaica

While these salient points from international speakers experienced in restorative justice policy and practice were made on the first day of the Restorative Justice Conference, they seemed to have been missed by many delegates, the majority of whom work in the traditional criminal justice system or in various aspects of offender rehabilitation. Moreover, the challenges of keeping earlier conference presenters on schedule meant that the sole speaker on the conference agenda who would represent “the voice of victims” was unable to contribute to discussions on the first day.

At the conclusion of Day 1 of the Restorative Justice Conference, it was apparent that one of the challenges in moving forward to the development of restorative justice policy was the lack of agreement as to the true definition and nature of restorative justice and the need to balance focus on all stakeholders – victims, offenders and the community (of which the State is a part).

 

CURB Directors Selected as Presenters at Restorative Justice Conference.

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On Tuesday 14th October, 2014 two directors of Caribbean Umbrella Body for Restorative Behaviour and a former Assistant Secretary to the organisation will be panellists at the first national Restorative Justice Conference in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Panel Discussion is titled “Formalising the Inclusion of NGOs in the Delivery of Restorative Justice” and will include Messrs. Wayne Chance (representing Vision on Mission), Adrian Alexander (representing CURB) and former Assistant Secretary Robert Payne (representing Prison Fellowship Trinidad and Tobago).

The Restorative Justice Conference is being hosted at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port of Spain by the Ministry of Justice. The aim of this conference is to explore how the principles of Restorative Justice can be implemented in order to transform the Criminal Justice system in Trinidad and Tobago.

Read Restorative Justice Articles from T&T Ministry of Justice.

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Restorative Justice and Us – Article Series

“One of the major objectives of the Ministry of Justice is to promote and formally include restorative justice systems and procedures into the criminal justice process in order to aid in the rehabilitation of offenders and promote healing for victims and communities where possible.

The Ministry of Justice has initiated a series of articles to be published weekly on the topic of Restorative Justice. These articles will explore the concept and we invite you to share your thoughts with us, as we seek to develop a Restorative Justice Policy for Trinidad and Tobago.

To access these articles from the Ministry of Justice’s website, please click here.

First National Restorative Justice Conference in Trinidad and Tobago.

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RJ and Us poster

On Monday 13th and Tuesday 14th October, 2014 the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago will host the country’s first national conference on restorative justice, titled “Restorative Justice and Us: Towards Policy and Practice”.

The Ministry of Justice interacted with stakeholders in both islands earlier this year as it sought their input on a Discussion Paper on a draft Restorative Justice Policy. Several agencies involved in aspects of restorative justice or criminal justice reform were invited to submit written feedback on the Discussion Paper in March, 2014.

Having been engaged in promoting restorative justice since our inception in 2005, it was an honour for CURB to submit comprehensive feedback to the Ministry at that time and direct them to additional research as well as past initiatives which comprise the national history of the development of restorative justice.

In July, 2014 the Ministry invited stakeholders to attend a Forum to discuss some of the feedback received and receive suggestions as to a way forward. CURB was unable to send a representative to that Forum. However, we requested in writing that our written submissions on the Discussion Paper on restorative justice from March, 2014 be read out at the Forum as our position on the issue.

Over the past several months, the Ministry of Justice has been publishing in the print and on social media a series of articles on various aspects of Restorative Justice. These articles are intended to help inform the public about restorative justice so as to reduce any possible resistance from society towards the implementation of this new paradigm. You can follow the Ministry of Justice’s posts on their Facebook Page here.

This month, the Ministry of Justice has coordinated this Restorative Justice Conference and has invited presenters from the Judiciary, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Prisons Service, Police Service and other State agencies. In addition, several civil society organisations have been asked to present from the perspective of crime survivors, prisoner support and ex-prisoner support agencies.

Of additional interest will be the perspectives to be shared by representatives of agencies in the United Kingdom and Jamaica, both of which nations have enjoyed a longer experience with restorative justice than has Trinidad and Tobago.

The Restorative Justice Conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

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