Westmoreland Justice Centre needs volunteers
Vincent Gardner, parish manager at the Westmoreland Justice Centre, is appealing for more residents of the parish to serve as volunteer facilitators to settle disputes, as many of those who were previously trained have quit.
“We are trying to recruit more facilitators. If you or anybody you know are interested in becoming a facilitator, you can contact our office at 105 Great George Street, (Westmoreland),” Gardner told councillors and other state agency representatives at the recent monthly meeting of the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation. “We are about to begin training for a new batch of facilitators,” he said.
The Westmoreland Justice Centre provides restorative justice services to residents who have committed an offence that would not exceed a prison term of three years. Under the programme, a victim may meet with the offender face to face in a victim-offender conference, or with the offender and persons from the larger community in a family group-community conference to resolve the matter, using alternative means outside of the courts.
According to Gardner, the position of a facilitator is completely voluntary, but, because of the current economic crunch sparked by the coronavirus, coupled with not earning an income from their involvement, some facilitators have decided to leave the programme.
“Everybody should know that to be a facilitator is voluntary, but some persons think that when they start, things will change and that is what we see happening,” Gardner told The Gleaner. “It is not like they don’t know initially, but over time, if you are not working and you are retired, it’s difficult to ask somebody to come in two days per week for five hours and they are not compensated.”
Gardener said services provided by facilitators are critical to the workings of the restorative justice programme, which seeks to settle disputes outside the courts, at the community level.
“We are getting a lot of referrals from the court and so I want to implore you, councillors and members of other agencies, that if you know of persons in your communities ... speak to the community leaders, the ministers of religion, to reach out to us,” pleaded Gardner.
He said the parish’s restorative justice centre has not yet seen many repeat offenders, but noted that sometimes, follow-up sessions are needed, especially when breaches are noted.
“It would not be through an official referral, it would be through follow-up being done where we might have become aware of a slight breach in the agreement,” said Gardener. “It might be where one party feels slighted by the other when they are not holding up their end of the bargain, and instead of coming to us, sometimes they end up taking matters into their own hands.”
- Albert Ferguson