The victims and perpetrators of crime are not uniquely characterized by a particular socio-economic status, age, sex or background; rather everyone is impacted by this social issue. Rape and other forms of sexual violence, child abuse and neglect, theft and murder are just a few of the crimes of significant concern to the Saint Lucian people. Though some victims feel a sense of justice after going through the court system, many often feel the harm done by the offender has not been repaired. For a significant number of victims, justice was not their reality and experience. While the long period of time spent on remand by individuals charged with crimes is a major injustice plaguing our justice system.
It is within the context of the aforementioned background that the Saint Lucia Association of Social Workers calls for a more efficient and effective justice system which is based on the principles of restorative justice.
Restorative justice is a process where all stakeholders affected by a crime are granted an opportunity to discuss how they have been impacted and to agree on measures to repair the harm. The processes used during restorative justice place a significant emphasis on the needs of victims, offenders, family members and the community.
Thus, in keeping with the principles of restorative justice the Saint Lucia Association of Social Workers calls for a justice system which attends to the diverse needs of the victim. Justice should not be limited to the payment of fines and incarceration. We must establish the necessary programmes and agencies to deal with the psychological and long-term economic impact of crime on victims and their families.
Also, the Saint Lucia Association of Social Workers notes that we have to take a serious look at the rehabilitation programme at the Bordelais Correctional Facility. This programme should be based on evidence and research, make use of best practices, and reflect a wraparound approach which is holistic in nature. The programme must be supported by a well-trained staff which is sufficient in quantity. As a society, efforts must be made to successfully reintegrate offenders into the community. Accordingly, the Association calls for an aftercare programme for offenders who have been released from the Bordelais Correctional Facility. This aftercare programme should provide offenders with resources and services intended to minimize reoffending by meaningfully engaging the strengths of the individual. The mindset and attitude of the community should be more supportive of the rehabilitation and reintegration process.
With regard to juvenile justice, the Saint Lucia Association of Social Workers is of the view that our present system needs to make provision for the implementation of a court diversion programme. In addition to aiding the rehabilitation of juveniles, a court diversion programme can reduce the exposure of our young people to the stigma and discrimination experienced by convicted offenders. Further, it can mitigate against the possibility of a juvenile offender falling victim to labeling theory which may lead to reoffending. The Association believes that there should be parity in juvenile justice. At present Saint Lucia has one residential facility which caters for the needs of male juvenile offenders. Therefore, the Association calls for the establishment of a residential facility for female juvenile offenders. Very importantly, both residential facilities should reflect a strong focus on rehabilitation, aftercare and reintegration.
Though it may be impossible to rid society of crime, we should remain resolute in our efforts to reduce its incidence. The principles of restorative justice are fundamental to realizing a society which is safe for all citizens. Every effort must be invested from a legislative, institutional and programmatic perspective if we are to have a society which responds to the positive aspirations of all citizens.
Kendall Elva is the President of the Saint Lucia Association of Social Workers