Last year, Jamaica, as a key component of implementing its National Restorative Justice Policy, opened seven Community Restorative Justice Centers working officially in 11 communities. In their first phase of implementation, these centers have begun to address community conflicts and complaints outside the formal justice system.

Ruth Carey, the Implementation Director for Restorative and Child Justice Reform for the Jamaican Ministry of Justice, reports that the centers have formally handled approximately 70 cases through restorative conferencing. The process involves meetings of victims, offenders and associated community members to address wrongs such as woundings, assault, property damage and conversions (a type of theft or fraud).

Currently legislation is being drafted to provide a legal basis for cases to be referred as well from within the criminal justice system at one of four stages: pre-charge, pre-trial, pre-sentence and post-sentence. Appropriate cases will range from noise disturbances and larceny to physical crimes and murder, though for more serious crimes these conferences may only be available post-sentence.

“We consider restorative justice a complement to the system, not a replacement,” said Carey.

“I’m happy that this program has started accepting cases, that we have completed the implementation and have moved on to operation. I am happy about the buy-in at the community level. We have actively heard from persons who come and say they want restorative justice. That shows that the word is getting out.”

In one case a woman who committed a robbery was reluctant to take responsibility for her actions. The victim had just lost a family member, so it was a particularly trying time. Rather than expose the victim to an unrepentant offender, several pre-meetings were held with the offender by the conference co-facilitators — always a man and a woman — to provide balance. The conference took place only after the offender began to show willingness to take responsibility for her actions. During the conference, the victim became extremely emotional about how she had been affected. The offender took genuine responsibility for the harm she had caused. This affirmed for the facilitators the need to be patient and not rush an initially unwilling offender.

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