Prioritise rollout of national restorative justice programme
Restorative justice is a model of dispute resolution that is reaping much success in the pilot communities in which it has been implemented. When citizens are provided with alternative avenues to discuss and resolve grievances, the pressure that is normally placed on the courts and penal systems is significantly reduced.
Restorative justice allows conflicts to be diffused even before they escalate to a violent stage. This alternative is a proactive approach to justice and cuts down the number of cases that will have to go before the courts and also the number of persons who are sentenced to prison.
While it remains difficult to put an exact figure to the savings that accrue to Government through restorative justice, having one less mouth to feed in prison and one less case to clear in the courts is a tremendous benefit to the country.
This is why Stand Up for Jamaica (SUFJ) is appealing to the newly-appointed Minister of National Security, Robert Montague, to fast track the rollout of a national restorative justice programme along with the attendant legislation.
Work had already begun in this regard and should now be prioritised by the new security minister. We know that many things will compete for the minister’s attention as he tries to bring Jamaica’s crime under control and we highly recommend a national restorative justice programme as one initiative that can aid him in this regard.
SUFJ’s work in the island’s correctional facilities has been advanced by use of the principles of restorative justice. A large part of the rehabilitation of inmates, through the various SUFJ programmes, is providing them with sustainable tools for conflict-resolution.
SUFJ has partnered with the Restorative Justice Unit within the Ministry of Justice to sensitise inmates about restorative justice. In fact, some of them have actually indicated strong interest in going through the process.
SUFJ remains committed to the rehabilitation of inmates and views restorative justice as a viable path for their reintegration into the society. Restorative justice bridges the gap between inmates and their victims and can serve as a bulwark against recidivism. It is through restorative justice that the problem of overcrowded prisons can be addressed over a long-term basis as it helps in keeping people out of prison and advances the exit of inmates from correctional facilities.
Keeping petty offences out of the courts will mean that less Jamaicans will end up with a criminal record. The impact of this can be compared to that envisioned by the amendments made to the Dangerous Drugs Act, which makes possession of two ounces or less of marijuana a non-arrestable, ticketable offence, that attracts no criminal record.
As Jamaica faces a new chapter of hope with the transition to a new Government, we must redouble our efforts to use restorative justice as a tool to plant the seeds of a more forgiving and caring society. In doing so we will be creating an environment where reasoned discussion and conflict resolution becomes the norm and the elements of the society which breeds criminality can be effectively countered.
If we empower people to solve conflicts amicable through the tools of restorative justice we will undoubtedly keep more citizens out of prison and in so doing create a more humane society.
- Carla Maria Gullotta is Italian Consulate to Jamaica and Executive Director of SUFJ, a human rights groups that carries out rehabilitation work with inmates in the island’s correctional facilities. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org