Reforming volatile communities through restorative justice
Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
AS FAR as the residents of Trench Town in Kingston are concerned, sometimes all it takes is one person to say "I'm sorry, genuinely sorry", to avert the bloodshed that often plagues many of Jamaica's inner-city communities.
And the Restorative Justice Centre in their community is affording them that very avenue, where offender and victim are given a forum to calmly talk out the hurt and pain and make restitution for the wrong committed.
"Trust me on this. Sometimes all a person wants to hear is 'I'm sorry' and to know you genuinely mean it," Samuel Anderson shared with The Gleaner.
A renowned community leader in Trench Town, Anderson is one of many who are touting the benefits of restorative justice and the positive impact it can have on transforming once-volatile communities into law-abiding and peaceful communities.
He first saw the impact of restorative justice at work following a football match that was held last year, which had as its aim the bridging of the gap between two warring communities.
However, an altercation on the field threatened to escalate into something major and upend the whole purpose of the gathering.
Anderson said, on his advice, the parties in conflict reluctantly agreed to take the matter to the Restorative Justice Centre in the community.
"I must admit, I was really impressed with how they handled the matter. Some people on the ground wanted to deal with it themselves, and under normal circumstances a simple thing like that would lead to beating, broke hand, broke foot, and gunfire," he said.
EVERY COMMUNITY NEEDS RJ
"That resolution to the football incident really opened my eyes because, believe me, the outcome of that incident would have affected more than 200 persons. And RJ (Restorative Justice) dealt with it in a manner not seen before. It is a very important project that every community needs."
He added: "The residents are tired of the old way of doing things. They no longer want the violent way of solving a problem, and RJ is the right way."
He stated that the formula utilised by the RJ centre is critical because it allows persons to talk things out.
"Talking to the man on the corner, you realise that often, people just really need a place to talk out the hurt and pain, and it makes you realise a lot of what is happening now stems from something that happened years ago," he said.
Still in the pilot phase in Jamaica, RJ is the process by which all parties with a stake in a particular offence come together in a conference setting to collectively resolve the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future.
All restorative models focus on holding the offender accountable in a more meaningful way, repairing the harm caused by the offence, reintegrating the offender into the community, and achieving a sense of healing for both the victim and the community.
Touted as a fair, transparent and effective response to crime and conflict, RJ has been implemented in several countries worldwide, with data showing successful results.
"The natural instinct is that 'me badder than you or me know someone who badder, so me a go deal with it my way'. But RJ is now showing them an alternative to that," stated Trevor Spence, president of Boys' Town Development Centre.
"Restorative justice is a new way for both parties to resolve conflict and in a peaceful way, where all is satisfied. This is a positive change, a shift in the culture in inner-city communities, and the residents welcome it."
Businessman Donovan English, who has lived in Trench Town all his life, agrees.
"Most of the issues I have, is right there I go to resolve it. People in the area are gaining the knowledge about it now and you find that a lot more people turning to it," stated English.
"The old way not working. Divide and rule just can't work anymore. A house divided against itself must fall, and is a whole heap a years we living like that and we see that it not making life any better, so the best way is to resolve things peacefully, and RJ is giving us the opportunity to do that."
Managed by Vuraldo Barnett, The Trench Town Restorative Justice Centre was opened to the public just over a year ago at the Trench Town Multi-Purpose Centre. It is one of seven centres in five parishes and falls under the Ministry of Justice. There are three RJ centres in the corporate area (August Town, Tower Hill and Trench Town); while the others are in Russia, Westmoreland; Montego Bay, St. James; May Pen, Clarendon; and Spanish Town, St. Catherine.
Speaking last Wednesday during a Gleaner Editors' Forum, Barnett said RJ is the latest of several initiatives that are working in Trench Town to bring about positive community transformation, and since setting up operations, a number of cases have been referred to the centre.
"We work with a number of key stakeholders who demonstrate a strong support for the transformation of the community and what we are doing collectively to help the community to increase the capacity of residents to manage and resolve conflicts," stated Barnett as he addressed journalists at The Gleaner's North Street, Kingston, offices.
"So far, from the number of interactive sessions we have had with residents and stakeholders, I can tell you that almost to a person, everyone agrees with what we are doing and loves the fact that there is this alternative means of resolving issues."
He added: "It may take some amount of explaining about what exactly it is and how it works, but once they get a sense of it and participate in a conference, there is a greater appreciation for it."
He said persons from any community can refer matters to any of the centres, and they were flexible enough to hold a conference at any location, where the parties were most comfortable.
Cases so far referred to the RJ centres include failure to repay loans or fulfil other financial commitments within the community, failure to pay rent, disputes over money, property damage, boundary disputes, minor wounding, assaults and confrontations, defamation of character and threats, among other minor offences.