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Justice that restores relationships

Archbishop Jason Gordon addresses the symposium. Seated at the head table, from left, Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Dean, Faculty of Law; attorney Hazel Thompson-Ahye; Glenda Jennings-Smith, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of National Security; and Carlos Coraspi, Assistant Commissioner of Prisons, Offender Management. Photo: Raymond Syms

By Lara Pickford-Gordon,

The justice system as it functions today is now “warehousing” more people in prison than ever before, and young persons remanded for extended periods end up “graduating” in criminal activity.

“The 18 or 19-year-old commits the crime and goes through the legal system, goes into remand and in remand what happens? He now goes from a petty criminal; he graduates with a degree, comes out with BA and Masters, depending on how long he spends in Remand and comes out with a circle of friends who have taught him how to do real criminal activity…It has not helped society by putting this person in Remand,” Archbishop Jason Gordon said.

He referred to Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Harris’ appeal for pardon for persons in Remand for periods longer than if they had been convicted and sentenced for the crimes with which they were charged. “How is justice being served by the system we are using now?” Archbishop Gordon asked.

Addressing the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ), UWI Faculty of Law, symposium, Understanding and promoting Restorative Justice in T&T at the Noor Hassanali Auditorium, St Augustine on June 9, he said the penal system exists not for justice but for retribution: to “pay the price”.  The question is how it helps restore dignity and fairness.

Archbishop Gordon said, “Justice is supposed to serve the citizens and the common good as a whole and if it is serving neither well, we must ask ourselves what we are doing.”

The present system was set up long ago when loss of freedom was a preventive measure: “The idea was when you put somebody away, gave them the time to think about it and when they came back to society they came back as a better person”. Today however, persons were not returning as “better people”.

Focusing on the benefits of the restorative justice approach he said, “Repairing the harm done to victim and society by the criminal activity is also important to restoring the common good.”

Archbishop Gordon continued, “With restorative justice, we can actually talk and a lot of the things can be settled a lot quicker… a legal process alienates people from the real sense of humanity which is relationships because once you enter into the legal process, you have to break that relationship.”

As the former parish priest in Gonzales, he used restorative justice in a project for young men living on the fringes. He added that this approach humanises people and forces them to take responsibility.

Hazel Thompson-Ahye, attorney and licensed trainer on restorative justice announced during the Q and A she planned to start restorative justice at the Arouca parish hall. She has invited a police officer who took restorative justice to Australia and England to come to Trinidad.

Thompson-Ahye said mediation had begun at the law school legal aid clinic and eventually magistrates and judges started to seek out the service. Undaunted by obstacles to implementing restorative justice she told the audience, “It’s going to happen”.

Delivering on ‘Restorative Principles and Practices’ Thompson-Ahye explained, “the principles and practices of restorative justice require that it involves all who are affected by crime, coming together to decide how this harm to the victim and the community be repaired”.

The process gives victims the choice to say how crime has affected them; it helped offenders to understand how their actions affected others and to take responsibility. Restorative justice is reintegrative not stigmatising or shaming. “We condemn the wrongdoing not the wrongdoer,” she said.

Another principle is fair process, which entails: engagement—with persons affected by the decision, explanation of the reasons for the decision, and expectation clarity—ensuring everyone understands the decision and what is to be expected of them.

Thompson-Ahye said, “Restorative practices, in its many forms, circles, justice conferences and family group conferences, can be used in a variety of settings, not merely for minor offences, but for many types of offences, sexual offences, sexual harassment, domestic violence and other crimes of violence.” She added the practices can be used at any stage of the criminal justice process.

It is an important part of child justice as it is “a form of diversion from the justice system”, prevents children being stigmatised and contaminated by the justice process and made rehabilitation and reintegration easier.  Thompson-Ahye said the most important functions of restorative practices are building and restoring relationships. More in next week’s issue.