More special courts to treat rather than punish on the way
New treatment courts are planned to help keep people out of prison and instead treat their problems, the island’s senior magistrate has revealed.
Juan Wolffe said that discussions to develop juvenile mental health, family health and sex offenders’ treatment courts, as well as a re-entry treatment court for people on probation and parole, were under way.
Mr Wolffe added: “We would like to have more treatment courts – courts that divert persons away from the criminal justice system and divert people away from prison.
“We are looking to give people that cushion so that when they come out of prison, they will come into a society that is prepared to assist them.”
Mr Wolffe said that over the past ten years, Bermuda’s recidivism rate was 80 per cent over the last ten years and that locking people up led to“diminishing returns”.
He added the Criminal Code was amended in 2001 to ensure that imprisonment was imposed only after alternatives had been considered.
Mr Wolffe said alternatives could include treatment, conditional and absolute discharges where there is no conviction or community service, fines and probation with conditions.
Mr Wolffe was speaking as part of a panel on a webinar on restorative justice organised by antiracism organisation Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda.
Restorative justice is a system where criminals are rehabilitated through reconciliation with victims and presented with viable options for a law-abiding life.
Mr Wolffe said the drug treatment, mental health and driving under the influence courts, which emphasise treatment rather than punishment, had been successful.
He added: “The idea is that we cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this problem. It is the easy way out and leads to continuous problems.
“The alternatives to Incarceration element recognised that we could deal with individuals more effectively by not locking them up.
“We started to moving towards dealing with them therapeutically rather than punitively.”
Mr Wolffe said “the proof is in the pudding” and that prison statistics including that the number of people locked up in Westgate, had decreased by about 50 per cent between 2010 and last year.
He said more than 80 per cent of people who completed Drug Treatment Court programmes between 2001 and this year had not reoffended, which was above the international average for similar courts.
Mr Wolffe said: “The numbers show that the work we are doing is working.”
Mr Wolffe was one of five panellists at the Friday night webinar who have experience in restorative justice in their areas of work.
The others were Leroy Bean, the gang violence reduction coordinator; Hashim Estwick, a retired police chief inspector, Stacey-Lee Williams, the diversity coordinator at Somersfield Academy and Michelle Scott-Outerbridge from Curb.
Rajai Debrook, Curb’s programme coordinator, hosted the Zoom based event and Lynne Winfield, Curb’s president, and Cordell Riley, its vice-president discussed the principles of restorative justice.
The principles of restorative justice are based on respect, compassion and inclusivity, which can also be applied to aspects of society outside of the criminal justice system.
Mr Bean said that restorative justice should be enshrined in legislation.
He added: “It is necessary to get to the root cause of problems and I believe that restorative justice brings that about.
“I believe it needs to be put into legislation. Canada has been using it for 40 years and it is an Act of Parliament.”
Mr Bean said: “We need a collaborative effort when we are working with those who have had a hard go of it – certain things have been out of their control.
“Things like restorative justice should be implemented in every institution. It gives us a sense of understanding of what we are dealing with.
“There is something more systemic that needs to be addressed so that these things don’t continue to happen.”
The two-hour webinar was held to mark International Restorative Justice Week.
Anyone wishing to train in restorative justice or learn more about it, can join Curb’s Facebook page, where the webinar can also be watched.
People can also e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.