Monday, December 18, 2017

Social justice generates real change


Mark Fraser

Local reports on youth and crime, from Ryan (2013) to Abdullah (1970), have lamented remand conditions, complained that jails are filled with youths from depressed communities and recommended alternatives to custody. The “Carmona model”, named after former judge now President Anthony Carmona, discontinued the remanding and sentencing of youths into prison by using restorative justice (RJ) measures.

A closer look at the transformation:

1. The Bail Boys programme enjoys a 40 per cent success rate in turning around the lives of gang youths who are moving away from being tax burdens to taxpayers. Gender transformations were most significant—the type of men they have become, the way that impacts on women and children.

2. The model revolutionised criminal justice practices and procedures; communication, behaviour, rites and relationships were altered to produce experiences of justice. The most notable change being a new use of power.

Carmona set up an arch of a restorative circle within a punitive, hierarchical court system. The court team, consisting of judge, probation officer, DPP’s attorney, police officer and the support staff, made up this segment.

The youth who stands before the court then gains a small community of care and support. Family, kinship and interpersonal relationships were reconfigured to form this segment of the RJ circle.

A third segment was put in place by the probation officer, through social programmes that fill the gaps—assessment, drug treatment, anger management, education, skills, work and supervision.

The fourth segment is still outstanding and could include sports, victim encounter, restitution and community service as evidence of responsiveness.

Several major transformations were accomplished through the Carmona model:

1. The penal policy of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago was implemented

2. Bail with supervision for indictable offences replaced remand

3. A blend of social and criminal justice proceedings produced a restorative justice court

4. The court produced an experience of justice and accountability

5. Sentencing enabled youths to become responsible

6. Multiple levels of empowerment and transformation were demonstrated

“The pain caused by the criminal justice system must be challenged because youths are fully capable of being responsible and accountable,” Carmona said. Social justice, through parenting, education and employment, remakes gang criminals into university students. Sound bites? Maybe, if you do not know the President or have not observed him on the bench.

He uses words to get through resistance, to get past the hate and cynicism of young gang members. He uses the power of words to reach inside them to move things round and make space for the green shoots of empowerment to get through. This was demonstrated by the team working with the Bail Boys, using the Carmona model, and the Drug Treatment Court is to continue it.

The question is: can the agencies of the criminal justice system hear this? Power is grounded in communities where values are lived and characters formed, where people help each other out. Family is the bedrock. But if family and society do not give children human values, what interventions would correct that con- dition, beginning with the sense of right and wrong? Parenting and environmental conditions limit or expand human development, resulting in different development tracks that are not equal.

Social justice levels the playing field by providing opportunities to rebalance the scales. A change agent can facilitate transformation in people and systems. Constructing small communities of care—supervising and supporting them—generates change. The Carmona model assumes that some youths are owed this experience and shows that courts can provide it to them.

Catherine Ali

via e-mail