In December, members of the CRI faculty made their second visit to the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine campus (UWI), in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, to continue to develop mediation curricula, programs, and a Conflict Resolution Resource Centre. This partnership project is supported by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Dept. of State under the authority of the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, as amended (see CRI Newsletters: June 2005, December 2005).
CRI faculty included CRI Co-Director Tamra Pearson d'Estrée, Research Professor Ruth Parsons, and CRI Core Faculty member Mary Jane Collier. One of the highlights of the trip for the faculty was a tour of the newly acquired Deane Street House. The opening of the Deane Street House Mediation Studies and Faculty Development Centre, which was to become official in January 2006, is a major step toward the accomplishment of the goals of the grant. Deane Street House is intended to provide space for students in the Post Graduate Diploma in Mediation Studies program and the Masters in Mediation Studies, as well as the participants in the Certificate Training Program sponsored by the UWI faculty. The building is a joint project between the Post-Graduate Diploma in Mediation Studies, the Social Work Program, and the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences.
Books and videos will be housed at Deane Street House and the site will have reception and security. Deane Street House was inspiring and quiet and very fitting for its purpose. It is a wonderful symbol of the work that UWI is launching in mediation education and training.
Unusual for an educational site, Deane Street House is a lovely old home near the campus with a large kitchen and dining area, beautiful grounds complete with gazebo and a patio where food can be served for gatherings. It has a large training room, with several small rooms for training, reception and offices. The renovated maid's quarters in the back of the house will be office sites. It is a great site for conferences and meetings, as well as mediation classes and mediation sessions. Many fruit trees grow on the premises, providing both shade to the house from the tropical sun and a treat for students and program participants during rest breaks. It has a roomy kitchen for meal preparation and a gazebo off the kitchen patio which provides a quiet, calm and peaceful place for education, training and eventually a place to conduct mediation services for the campus and the community. It appears to be a perfect setting for peaceful settlement of disputes, for small conferences, and for teaching and learning.
Another highlight of the December visit was a three-day training on Restorative Justice, given by Mark Umbreit, Director of the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking at the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota. UWI faculty, students, and community practitioners had expressed many times their interest in more training in Restorative Justice. Professor Umbreit was invited to participate by the University of Denver faculty team specifically for his expertise in the area of Restorative Justice.
The first day of training was a community symposium attended by 75+ persons from the University of the West Indies, governmental ministries, and the general community, as well as many members of the press. The symposium was an inspiring day with a commanding opening presentation by Dr. Umbreit, who described restorative justice as a "victim-centered response to crime that provides opportunities for those most directly affected by crime - the victim, the offender, their families and representatives of the community – to be directly involved in responding to the harm caused by the crime". This first day laid the foundation for the following two days of training offered to community practitioners and university professors, where Dr. Umbreit presented a framework for restorative justice through many case examples. The second day ended with an overview of restorative justice work in the United States and other countries in the area of murder and serious crimes. Dr. Umbreit cited several examples where families met with criminal offenders in an effort to better understand the nature of the crime and allow them to better get over their loss. Although somewhat controversial in the dialogue regarding crime and punishment, these ideas were well received by the participants.
Many Trinidadians, including governmental officials and ordinary citizens are alarmed by a rising crime rate, including rising murder rates in their country. Restorative Justice is one alternative being considered in their current task of restructuring their criminal justice system. Press coverage of the symposium was noticed by the US Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Roy Austin, who invited the DU faculty to the Embassy to discuss the program and its implications for Trinidad and Tobago.
– R. Parsons