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