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Port of Spain – January 29, 2019: The way we are dealing with prisoners is actually making Trinidad and Tobago less safe. This was the sentiment echoed by the expert panellists at a prisoners' rights dialogue organized by the High Commission of Canada, the Delegation of the European Union and the University of Trinidad and Tobago Academy of Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs. Speakers pointed to research showing that in countries where the tendency is towards 'less' incarceration and the utilization of a restorative justice approach, those convicted of crimes are less likely to repeat criminal actions.
The expert panel at the event was comprised of both local and international experts. Adrian Alexander, Director of the Caribbean Umbrella Body for Restorative Behaviour (CURB) in presenting an overview of Restorative Justice and explained how this approach can help both the perpetrators and victims of crime. Mr. Mike Ryan, Advisor to the Commissioner of Correctional Service, Canada, who is also working as a consultant with the TT Prison Service, drew on his experiences working in the Canadian system to show how restorative justice contributes to public safety. Debbie Jacob, renowned Journalist with the Newsday, spoke about her experiences as a teacher in the prison system, but pointed out that for restorative justice to work the criminal justice system needs urgent reform. Mr. Wayne Chance, Founder and Executive Director of Vision on Mission, himself a former inmate, spoke about the importance of respecting the human rights of inmates. Professor Kevin Haines who heads the Department of Criminology at UTT served as moderator for the event.
While panelists offered convincing evidence of the need for a restorative justice approach, it was the testimony of one formerly incarcerated which most stirred the audience. Mr. Peter Holder spoke with emotion about his experience behind bars and the difficulties he faced reintegrating once he was released. He pleaded with the powers that be to pay more attention to prison reform and pledged that he too would continue all that he could to support his fellow ex-inmates.
Aad Biesebroek, Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to Trinidad and Tobago in his welcome address stated: "In Europe, while we face many of the same challenges in the prison system as this country does, there are some examples from countries such as Norway and the Netherlands that prove restoration and rehabilitation are efficient ways to counteract repeat offending. In fact, Norway's recidivism rate is 20% - one of the lowest in Europe."
High Commissioner to Canada, Mrs. Carla Hogan-Ruefelds, stated: "It is important to build an understanding of the opportunities restorative justice approaches present – in Canada and in T&T. With its focus on repairing harm, the potential for healing in victims, meaningful accountability of offenders and preventing further crime, there is a call for increased use of this approach in Canada, and for a willingness among senior decision-makers to put restorative justice practices into action."
Among those attending the event were the Chief Justice, Mr. Ivor Archie, Justices Jacob Wit and Winston Anderson of the Caribbean Court of Justice and Mr David West Director of the Police Complaints Authority. Members of the TT Prison Service were also present, as well as members of the prison debate team. Deputy Commissioner of Prisons, Mr Carlos Coraspe, speaking on behalf of Commissioner Gerard Wilson urged everyone, including government leaders and the business community, to work together with the Prison Service to ensure that ex-inmates are properly reintegrated and to reduce the rate of recidivism.
The EU and Canada, in the context of their commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights around the world, both provide support the TT prison system. The EU supports projects with the Brown Cotton Organization and Vision on Mission which are geared towards empowerment of current inmates and ex-offenders. Canada has been providing support through a charter agreement between Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and the TT Prison Service.