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Healing wounds in our community

Juan Wolffe

CURB has long been an advocate for restorative justice and restorative practices, and we were delighted to see in The Royal Gazette on August 27 that senior magistrate Juan Wolffe is a strong supporter of restorative justice. Not only that, but it is equally supported by the Chief Justice, Ian Kawaley.

In late 2012, CURB released its “Racial Justice Platform”, which included among its recommendations the greater use of restorative practices in the criminal justice system. Bermuda has inherited the Western punitive system of justice, and CURB advocates for a restorative process in our community that focuses on healing all those affected by the harms that crime causes. In the many jurisdictions where restorative justice practices are used, there is strong evidence to suggest the rate of recidivism decreases.

There is a distinction between the terms restorative practices and restorative justice, with restorative justice practices being a subset of restorative practices. Restorative justice practices are reactive, consisting of formal or informal responses to crime and other wrongdoing after it occurs; whereas restorative practices also include the use of informal and formal processes that precede wrongdoing, those that proactively build relationships and a sense of community to prevent conflict and wrongdoing. (Source: Institute for Restorative Practices)

The pilot Drug Treatment Court under Mr Wolffe has been a success, but it needs to be expanded and supported. As he points out, the Mental Health Court requires a legislative foundation, with significant work needed in amending or creating new legislation, and in particular adding mental disability to the Human Rights Act.

We support his call for a dedicated forensic unit at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute to help individuals; the need for a residential facility; the requirement for legislative and procedures for magistrates to recommend urgent assistance for those who clearly suffer mental issues; and the creation of an agency for victims of crime and their families by providing counselling and support. All these recommendations would be restorative practices.

CURB understands that the Commissioner of Corrections Lt Col Eddie Lamb has instituted some programmes at Westgate and a few corrections officers have been trained in restorative justice/practices.

We also understand that the Bermuda Police Service have begun to focus their attention on restorative practices. As great as these signs of change are, they are piecemeal and as a community we need to co-ordinate these efforts within the criminal justice system, as well as strategise how restorative practices can be brought to all elements of our community, not just the criminal justice system.

To that end, four CURB members have been trained in restorative justice/practices, one of whom is able to train others to become trainers. In addition, together with Prison Fellowship, we are collating the names of others across the Island who are also trained in restorative practices so as to create a resource for the community and to build advocacy.

The field of restorative practices has significant implications for all aspects of society — from families, classrooms, schools and prisons to workplaces, associations, governments, even whole nations — because restorative practices can develop better relationships among these organisations’ constituents and help the overall organisation function more effectively. For example, in schools, the use of restorative practices has been shown to reliably reduce misbehaviour, bullying, violence and crime among students and to improve the overall climate for learning. Everyone who finds themselves in positions of authority — from parents, teachers and police to administrators and government officials — can benefit from learning about restorative practices. (Source: IIRP)

CURB recognises that introducing restorative justice practices into our criminal justice system is crucial, but we also recognise that restorative practices will bring about a wider healing process within our community.

• Lynne Winfield is the vice-president of CURB (Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda)