OM SXM, SJIS facilitate mediation training for professionals dealing with relational violence

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PHILIPSBURG, SINT MAARTEN – A group of professionals working with relational violence cases recently completed a three-day intensive mediation skills training as part of a “Domestic Violence and Mediation” restorative justice project launched by the Stichting Justitiële Inrichtingen Sint Maarten (SJIS) and the Prosecutor’s Office Sint Maarten OM SXM.

The skill training was the first step to introducing restorative justice as an alternative approach to conflicts that are usually governed by (criminal) law, specifically relational (domestic) violence cases. In the coming months, several other related activities will be implemented by SJIB and OM SXM such as a behavioral intervention programme for offenders and their partners, and a pilot mediation in penal cases.

The three-day mediation course trained counsellors, social workers, case managers, probation officers, and law enforcement officers in the art of mediation, skills and the attitude a mediator needs to be effective.

The training provided an important part of the justice chain with understanding of restorative justice and tools to apply mediation in their daily practice. The participating organizations, spread throughout the justice and social field, often work on the same cases in which different kinds of conflicts between people exist.

The participants gained additional tools to resolve challenging situations in a sustainable way. Furthermore, they are now better able to provide a uniform service to the community. The newly trained “restorative justice ambassadors” will continue to promote sustainable and peaceful conflict resolution for the benefit of the community.

The training has introduced mediation to the Police Force of Sint Maarten KPSM. “It was an eye opener and learning experience from the perspective of how the police conducts investigation and interviews,” said Patricia Richardson, KPSM General Investigation Team leader and Coordinator Domestic Violence.

Richardson explained, “As a police officer, we sit separately with the offender and victim, but with these skills we can sit with both parties and look beyond the offense to see if there is some way the situation can be resolve by applying the mediation skills, especially in cases of parties who are in a relationship and intend to maintain that relationship or contact.”

Vanessa Fraser, Safe Haven Foundation Director, said the training equipped Safe Haven representatives with skills to empower those they serve to reach their own agreements and take charge of the resolution process. “It allows us to incorporate mediation into the work we are already doing, be better advocates for our clients, and to offer an alternative where understanding or closure can be found within their fractured relationships,” she said.

Probation officers are sometimes required to mediate between a victim and an offender. SJIS Probation Officer Ivan Plantein shared that he gained more knowledge via the training about mediation and how mediation skills could benefit the parties involved in a dispute, civil or criminal case. “We can apply this knowledge to probation and parole clients of SJIS to break the negative spiral and come to a possible solution/clear agreement between the victim and offender, amongst others in domestic violence cases,” he said.

Speaking of the long-term impact of the skills training, Prosecutor Sandra Withfield said, “All participants have situations in their workload where this mediation training will be useful. They now have tools to get to a better understanding/outcome for parties in a conflict. A lot of conflict situations are not solely resolved by punishing the perpetrator. The aim is to get the two parties at the table to prevent the situation from getting out of hand again and to get a more satisfying solution, especially for the victim.”

SJIS Acting Director Cynthia Filemon said restorative Justice is in line with SJIS’ task and mission. “As a probation service institute, we aim to strengthen our organizational capacity by continuously enhancing the skills of probation officers through training.

She added, “The mediation techniques will be applied throughout the supervision trajectory of suspects and offenders, specifically in domestic violence cases, because there are indications that ‘victim awareness’ in probation clients can play a role in reducing the risk of recidivism.”

Tackling relational violence cases via mediation is not a new approach, rather it is a growing one internationally and within the Dutch Kingdom. “All islands are now in dialogue, preparation phase or have already implemented restorative practices/mediation as a method to resolve conflicts. There is a positive movement in this perspective,” Filemon said.

Experienced socio-legal counselor Sanne Bartels, one of the two trainers, explained that with this project, St. Maarten connects with the global movement and the regional development. It will contribute to the successful implementation of restorative justice as part of the, hopefully soon to be implemented, revised draft Code of Criminal Procedure.

Bartels has a background in the non-governmental- and governmental sector. A lawyer and mediator by training, she is now dedicated to making mediation an accessible form of peaceful conflict resolution on St. Maarten. Bartels advises and supports SJIS and the Prosecutor’s Office in the “Domestic Violence & Mediation” project.

The second mediation trainer was Makiri Mual, a fulltime international mediator, family-therapist and educator with a wealth of experience in managing interpersonal conflicts. Mual is the founder and co-chair of the Association for Mediators in Penal Cases. He is developing a new form of mediation, which he derives from his therapist background – Emotionally Focused Mediation. He has trained professionals across the board, such as social counselors, judges, police and lawyers.

The mediation skills training falls under the Project Domestic Violence and Mediation financed through the Resources for Community Resilience R4CR funding programme. The R4CR programme was implemented by VNG International and funded by the St. Maarten Recovery and Resilience Trust Fund to improve the capacity of Sint Maarten’s civil society organizations, support reconstruction, and resilience at the community level.