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.

 

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