Calling all dons

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JUSTICE Minister Delroy Chuck has issued a come hither appeal to feuding gangs and dons islandwide, to use restorative justice as a channel for settling disputes.

According to Chuck, who issued the open invitation during the third virtual town hall meeting hosted by the Ministry of Justice on Wednesday, he has utilised this approach in the Grants Pen and Barbican communities of his St Andrew North Eastern constituency, essentially ridding them of gangs and dons.

The minister had been discussing the use of the restorative justice approach by the courts, in keeping with the town hall’s theme ‘Restorative Justice’, when he made the appeal.

“But more importantly, community members, police officers, teachers, stakeholders, and gangs, you are fighting one another in communities across Jamaica; go to the restorative justice centres, go to your Member of Parliament, contact me, if necessary, let us see if the gang warfare can be resolved,” Chuck urged.

He insisted that he knows the approach works.

“I have assisted in resolving it in Barbican and Grants Pen, we don’t have any dons or gangs there,” the justice minister said, before quipping, “because I am the only don in the area”.

“It can be resolved, there is no need for you to be fighting, retaliating, lying, refusing to accept responsibility. We have a problem in Jamaica where everybody, when they engage in wrongdoing they never admit responsibility. Restorative justice is the process to admit your wrongdoing. Let us move forward, let us try and build a Jamaica without all this excessive conflict and disputes, we can do it,” he added.

According to Chuck, through the use of restorative justice in Grants Pen — reputedly one of the toughest garrisons in the Corporate Area — the gang culture has seen a sea change with gangsters who would not have even faced each other across a room, now reconciled.

“It’s amazing when you go into the communities. If you can just get the parties in dispute to start talking to one another, you would be amazed to see how disputes are resolved. I can tell you, in my Grants Pen community, when I started to get the gangs to talk to one another, the gang leaders never looked at one another.

“You meet, whether in the police station or in the vestry of a church, they would turn their backs to one another while talking, and it will take several minutes, several hours, for them to even look at one another. And you keep telling them, ‘Look at one another’, they just cannot face each other; but after a period of discussion, where you get the police officer or the pastor, the same men look at one another and talk to each other.

“That is how we see restorative justice — the parties, in the beginning, are at loggerheads, but if you can just get them to soften and start looking at one another and start talking,” the justice minister explained.

Chuck said it is one programme he enjoys talking about.

“…It has been such a great success and it is working, and the courts are utilising it even more. I would urge attorneys, especially when they think about defending their clients, especially for minor offences and offences that are dealt with in court… this [is] an appropriate route because if the offender and the victim can really reconcile, it is persuasive to the court to say you have got back together and it is a minor offence the court might say, ‘No order’. If it is really serious, the court might well say, ‘No, this is serious, you have to plead guilty and we will admonish and discharge as the case may be’,” he said.

In June, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang said two-thirds of all gangs in Jamaica are rooted in the Kingston Central, Kingston East, and Kingston West divisions — which are responsible for most of the murders in the Corporate Area. According to Chang, there are 134 gangs operating from Bull Bay in the east, to Ferry on the St Andrew/St Catherine border in the west, accounting for two-thirds of the 389 gangs said to be in Jamaica at the end of 2019.

Giving a further breakdown of the area where these gangs operate, he said consistent with historical trends, the Corporate Area continues to account for the largest proportion of gangs. Police Area 4, which comprises the Kingston Western, Kingston Central, Kingston Eastern, St Andrew Central, and St Andrew South police divisions, accounted 249 or 64 per cent of the total number of known gangs islandwide.

The national security minister also said, at the divisional level, 78 of the gangs identified across the island, or 20.1 per cent, were resident within the St Andrew South Police Division. This was followed by the Kingston Central and Kingston Western police divisions, with 13.1 per cent and 12.3 per cent, respectively.

“Area 5, which has St Catherine North, St Catherine South, St Andrew North, and St Thomas, accounts for the second highest number of gangs in the country, with 57 gangs or 14.7 per cent. They were followed by Area 1 (St James, Westmoreland, Hanover, and Trelawny) with 51 gangs or 13.1 per cent,” he noted.

On Wednesday, Chief Parish Court Judge Chester Crooks, speaking at the virtual town hall meeting, said the courts have used the restorative justice avenue “a lot”.

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