Monday, February 16, 2015

Mediation in Trinidad


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

February 16, 2015


            It is refreshing to discover a place where punitive justice is giving way to mediation, especially in prisons, among staff, among prisoners, and between staff and prisoners.  The International Conference on Penal Abolition met there in June 2012.  Organizer Catherine Ali invited me to offer a pre-conference at Santa Rosa Prison, and introduced me to Alloy Youksee, a correctional officer who had become nationally certified mediator, and as a counselor, was trying to introduce it.  I asked him to create a scenario, based on experience, of a serious incidence of violence between a guard and a prisoner.  He got prisoners and staff each to choose a representative to role play the prisoner and the guard.  I facilitated an exchange which got to a point at which I began inviting the groups on either side of the room to volunteer to pick it up.  By the time we were done, the exchange had evolved into a general discussion of issues, both active and respectful.  I spoke of it as a model for what prisoners and staff, work with Youksee to keep the exchange going regularly.  Members of both groups were both animated and emerged congenial.

            The National Mediation Board invited me to keynote their annual meeting that December, and Youksee and I got together again.  He was making progress.  At the conference, I got to admire how widely and deeply embedded mediation had become in the country.  In prisons, Youksee was just beginning to set mediation up.

            When I got the link showing Youksee now supervises mediation for the national prison service, I wrote a note congratulating him and asking how things had gone after we last met.  What he achieved is as far as I know an unrivaled transformation of conflict and violence in a nation’s prison system.  I found the same willingness among police to work with “gangs” and other community groups.  It is a tribute to the political culture of Trinidad generally, and Youksee in particular when it comes to prisons, that mediation has come so far.  I intend to follow Youksee’s column in the National Guardian, and invite people in the world of criminal justice like me to take note of how to reduce prison violence.  He wrote:


Hi Hal,

Yes, it has been a while, sorry for the gap in communication. However, I have been very busy dealing with a lot of competing interest for my time. Nevertheless, it is wonderful to hear from you and I do wish you and your family all the very best for the year ahead.

Mediation has become a main stay in the country,with leading politicians, business leaders etc., calling for mediation as an effective tool to resolve conflict. In the prison, there now exists a higher level of consciousness, relative to the value added mediation can contribute to the organization. Not only by the prison administrators, rank and file staff but by inmates, when they are made aware of the mediation process and its value. Nevertheless, there is the competing cultural reality of solving issues with violence, especially in at risk communities. As such, the effort towards creating that critical mass for full acceptance and the practice of mediation in the prison and throughout the country, remains a work in progress. Interesting, I now write for an institution in the Guardian Newspaper monthly. My first article entitled "Mediation for Prisoners" was published in the said newspaper on January 16th, 2015. You can goggle it, if you want to read it. Other articles to follow include Reintegration and Restoration, Gangs and Violence etc. I also write for the Prisons Officers Association in their magazine the "Review".

After leaving Santa Rosa Prison, I was promoted and put in charge of Port of Spain Prison, quite an experience in the management of people and resource. Of course, resolving conflict and the use of various methodologies, including mediation was center stage. I should also indicate that I now a Radio Talk Show for the program "Corrections" on IE95.5FM, where I endeavor to education the public on matters of crime, deviance, criminal justice issues, prison reform etc. Additionally, I have been a regular presenter on the Maximum Rise Radio, where I speak directly to inmates on a range of matters, including but not limited to family, conflict resolution, mediation, culture, crime, education, and a range of social issues.

Recently, I have applied for the position to be in charge of all the Mediation Centers around the country, I feel I can make a meaningful contribution in creating the necessary cultural shift predicated upon the Restorative Justice platform. So wish me luck with that and my continued PhD. research.


            Youksee, thanks.  Your news made my day.  Love and peace, hal


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