Strawberry, raspberry, blueberry? An adventurous Canadian who left the frozen north to explore places in the sun, I am on a taste test of the world, out to sample everything I can find. Right now I am first mate on the sailboat "Diva" and alongside Captain Phil, we will be sailing throughout the Caribbean. Come on, hop aboard for the ride!
I had the pleasure of attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony
for the Granville restorative justice centre several days ago. This centre is one of 4 centres that are the
result of more than 2 years of work by the Ministry of Justice here in Jamaica,
part of a pilot project working in 4 communities around Jamaica. It is one way to think about crime
differently, as the traditional responses of more police and harsher sentences
are not having the right kind of impact fast enough.
Restorative justice, in case you are interested, is “a process whereby all the parties with a
stake in a particular offense come together to resolve collectively how to deal
with the aftermath of the offense. It is a different way of thinking about
conflict. Restorative Justice focuses on holding the offender accountable in a
more meaningful way. It repairs the harm caused by the offense, helps to
reintegrate the offender into the community and helps to achieve a sense of
healing for both the victim and the community.” (from the Restorative
Justice brochure, produced by the Jamaican Ministry of Justice).
In Jamaica, they’ve been working on officially integrating
restorative justice options on all levels of the justice system – the idea
being that those active in the community will be given tools to help identify
optimal cases for the restorative justice process and can make direct
referrals. In Jamaica, the concept of restorative justice makes particular
sense because of the retaliatory nature of the violence – involving the whole
community is one way to end a cycle of violence that ultimately has effects far
beyond the immediate victims.
Restorative Justice plan for Jamaica
I was invited to attend the event by Audrey Barrett, a
Canadian from Cape Breton, who has spend the last two years here in Jamaica as
a consultant to the ministry on restorative justice. When I spoke to Audrey after the event and
asked how she was, she took a deep breath in and said something like “still holding
on.” It had been a long week of grand openings and events in various places, with
the usual upsets of dignitaries cancelling appearances at the last moment, (as
they are wont to do anywhere in the world) technical difficulties and just
general lack of sleep. The week should have been celebratory, the culmination
of 2 long years of hard work, but instead it was a fuss of ceremony, with the
pettiness of those who felt slighted given their status and those who felt the project
was just a waste of money seeming to speak out louder than everyone
The two of us were sitting down after the ceremony, discussing
the event and not able to go anywhere since it was pouring down buckets of
rain. We were joined by a couple of
members of the Granville community. They started to tell Audrey about how they
had used the restorative justice process to deal with an incident in the
community a few weeks earlier.
From what I can tell, the story goes something like this: a
shooting had occurred in the community recently and the rumours were that the
gunmen had taken cover in a stand of banana trees. So in an effort to promote
community safety, some community members decided to go in and cut down the
banana trees, preventing anyone else from hiding there.
However, the banana trees were a primary source of income
for 5 or 6 families leaving nearby, who were understandably quite upset by this
destruction of their livelihood. I’m not exactly sure how it started, but some
members of the community quickly realised that this might be a good time for a
community meeting involving some members from both “sides” and an impromptu
meeting was held. Following that early
meeting, some people in the community contacted Audrey about the incident, and
she walked them through some of the restorative justice processes and things to
keep in mind while conducting a more formal session.
A restorative justice “conference” was held, or at least
something similar adapted to the circumstances.
The community members who were telling us about it seemed quite upbeat
about how it had unfolded. They had gotten more feedback and open conversation
from people than they had expected, and although people didn’t easily answer,
“How did that make you feel?” questions, eventually the conversation uncovered
people’s responses to the incident and all sides seemed to have had a chance to
present their stories.
And, as important as having voices heard, the meeting
culminated with some actions for moving forward. Members of the community would
help the families replant the area where the destruction had occurred, and in
the meeting a suggestion was made to plant another
crop that would generate income for the families, without growing to the height
of the banana trees and providing shelter for criminals.
Lesson learned: official events are important
for public recognition and other reasons, but never get confused about what
really matters. In this case, community
members recognized the potential of the restorative justice process and have
started to use it on their own, with or without the official opening
ceremonies. Indicators of success come in all shapes and sizes, with the
important ones being the hardest to find sometimes!
Granville - a lush, green community back in the hills.