“The sanctions we create will not only deal with the child we save today, but the adult we save tomorrow.” says Julien Skeete from Tobago. The “sanctions” he refers to, are sentencing options that may be placed on a first-time, young offender, by their peers under the proposed Juvenile Peer Resolution Centre. The Peer Resolution Centre is an innovative juvenile justice concept being piloted for the first time the Caribbean, more specifically in Tobago, at four secondary schools.
In October 2015, more than forty young volunteers in Tobago were exposed to intensive training to prepare them to act in various roles of a typical court setting. These roles includes peer judges, peer advocates and peer assessors. The training first started with personal development centered on the values of self-esteem and leadership; it was followed by training designed to equip them to perform the various roles of Peer Resolution. They also learned about restorative justice and court room protocols, roles and etiquette; court sanctions and offences; and the questioning and deliberation process. The training ended with mock hearing sessions where they received guidance and feedback from judicial officers and technical experts.
Augustine, a peer of Skeete who attended one of the earlier consultations emphasised the need to impress the significance and seriousness of this peer resolution on young people so they are encouraged to comply with sanctions imposed under this system. He urged his colleagues, “We need to send the message that a young person who has made a mistake can be given an opportunity to correct them.” Trinidad Youth Council representative, Nolan Williams, felt that the Youth Court would have strong impact on young people and expressed great enthusiasm in the programme being implemented.
Peer Resolution is expected to increase the capacity of schools to respond more effectively to incidents of indiscipline. One of the objectives of this school-based peer resolution model also involves addressing the needs related to the cause of an offence, and creating teachable moments for students who have done wrong. The peer resolution process is anticipated to have a positive impact on more serious school infractions.
Over 15 adult volunteers were also trained to provide support, guidance and mentorship to the student volunteers. Their training focused on the different roles that children can adopt in a Youth Court, types of sanctions placed on juvenile offenders; how the brain of a child functions and develops, and the effects of trauma on a child. The support for introducing peer resolution was far reaching, stakeholders who were engaged in the development of the frame work included teachers; parents; social workers; civil society and faith based organisations; the Tobago House of Assembly; and Tobago Divisions of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports, and Health and Social Services; others included magistrates; psychologists; the Ministry of Education; Prison and Police Services; Probation Services, Children’s Authority; and the Youth Councils. The Peer Resolution Model incorporates children into the decision-making process for cases involving juveniles who have committed minor offences and first-time offenders. It uses an evidence-based approach aimed at reducing reoffending among young persons. This is one component of the Juvenile Court Project which is being implemented by the Judiciary and UNDP with funding from USAID.