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

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

The three-day mediation course trained counsellors, social workers, case managers, probation officers, and law enforcement officers in the art of mediation.

PHILIPSBURG–A group of professionals dealing 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 Stichting Justitiële Inrichtingen St. Maarten (SJIS) and the St. Maarten Prosecutor’s Office 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 domestic violence cases. Several related activities such as a behavioural intervention programmes for offenders and their partners, and a pilot mediation in criminal cases will be implemented by SJIB and OM SXM in the coming months.

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 system 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.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, 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 St Maarten Police Force KPSM. “It was an eye-opener and learning experience from the perspective of how the police conduct investigation and interviews,” said Patricia Richardson, KPSM General Investigation Team leader and Domestic Violence Coordinator.

She explained: “As a police officer, we sit with the offender and victim separately, but with these skills we can sit with both parties and look beyond the offence to see if there is some way the situation can be resolved by mediation, especially when offender and victim are in a relationship and want to continue the relationship.” 

Safe Haven Foundation director Vanessa Fraser said the training had equipped her team 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.”

Probation officers are sometimes required to mediate between a victim and an offender. SJIS Probation Officer Ivan Plantein said he had gained more knowledge about mediation. “We can apply this knowledge to probation and parole clients of SJIS to break the negative spiral and come to a clear agreement between the victim and offender; amongst others, in domestic violence cases,” he said.

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 organisational capacity by continuously enhancing the skills of probation officers through training.”

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.

Speaking of the long-term impact of the skills training, prosecutor Sandra Withfield said: “All participants are confronted with situations where this mediation training will be useful. They now have tools to get to a better understanding and 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.”

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

Bartels has a background in the non-governmental and governmental sectors. A lawyer and mediator by training, she is now dedicated to making mediation an accessible form of peaceful conflict resolution in 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 Association for Mediators in Penal Cases. He is developing a new form of mediation called Emotionally Focused Mediation, which he derives from his therapist background. He has trained professionals across the board, such as social counsellors, judges, police and lawyers.

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