CSJP’s Violence Interruption Programme – A Welcome Intervention

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(Contributed by the Jamaica Information Service)

The Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) III, through its Violence Interruption Programme (VIP), is receiving commendation for its work with communities to reduce crime and violence.

The Violence Interruption Programme is a peace-building approach used to help curtail violence in the 50 communities across eight parishes targeted by CSJP.

Senior Regional Case Management Coordinator for the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) at CSJP, Orville Simmonds, tells JIS News that the VIP uses a specific methodology, that of violence interrupters.

“To a large extent, they are young men and young women who have influence in the communities. A lot of them have been reformed and they have the trust and respect of other members in the communities. They are used identify medium and high risk youth as well as potential acts of violence and mediate, so that they do not happen,” he says.

The programme, Mr. Simmonds adds, has been quite effective through its implementation with the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) and spans eastern and western Jamaica.

Formed in 2002 by the Ministry of National Security, the PMI is intended to treat with gang violence and improve community cohesion.

It has been pivotal in improving challenging environments in communities like August Town, Mountain View, Dunkirk, Greater Brown’s Town and Parade Gardens in Kingston and St. Andrew; March Pen and Homestead in St. Catherine; and Granville and Salt Spring in St. James.

The approximately 125 violence interrupters islandwide undergo training in conflict management, mediation and behavioural change, among other interventions.

Mr. Simmonds reveals that the interrupters, who are called peace officers by community members, will be further trained as they are being called upon to intervene in domestic disputes and other matters for which they are not equipped to handle.

“We recognise that, in many instances, an interrupter is the first responder when there is an act of violence. In most instances, when there is a death, an interrupter finds himself or herself having to relate to family members. So we think that they should have the capacity to provide some emergency grief counselling,” he says.

Executive Director, PMI East, Damian Hutchinson, says the programme does more than try to resolve conflict, pointing out that it also offers skills training and community cohesion activities, such as sports.

“We seek to not only engage those persons involved in conflict. We are very much involved in engaging the wider community through sports, culture and whatever activities we think can help with the integration among polarised sections of communities.  We are also involved in the personal development of youth who are deemed high-risk, in transitioning them away from gang activity,” he says.

Violence Interrupter, Megan McGonigle-Stewart, from Homestead, St. Catherine, has been working with her community for two years. She says the PMI’s support has helped to significantly reduce crime and violence, citing a football programme as one such initiative through which this is being achieved.

“It has really worked wonders because it is a big community and for years we have had persons in their 30s or 40s who did not know other sides of the community. As a result of the football programme, we now have a free-flow where everybody is comfortable enough to walk to the football games. The (participating) teams are (from) across the community and neighbouring communities, which never happened before. From this, we have seen a reduction in gang violence and petty crimes in the community,” she shares.

Mrs. McGonigle-Stewart says the PMI and violence interrupters are so respected in Homestead that community members often call her on matters that are not conflict related.

“Any information that community members need, they will call the violence interrupters…whether it be for work, school or any other service. PMI is not just about violence interruption; it gives the community a sense of belonging and because of that, persons are more receptive of the programme and we get a lot of support from the community. We even have a better relationship with the police because of the programme,” she says.

Another violence interrupter, Tracey Reid, who has been working in Granville, St. James for three years, has high praises for the PMI.

“There was a time when people would say ‘you enter Granville at your own risk’. Now, that is null and void because persons understand and know that PMI is about peace. Youth who would normally go into scamming have now made a turnaround and have gone on to develop a skill or (get) a job,” she says.

Ms. Reid adds that: “these residents are so engaged and happy for the programme (that) a lot of the times…my phone is constantly ringing when there is any conflict and (persons) ask me to intervene. I even get calls from the police that tell us which families we need to visit and offer mediation.”

Orayon Williams, a resident of Granville, says because of the PMI, persons in his community can freely interact with others without fear of violence. He also says a number of youth have received training and are better able to communicate and express themselves.

“Before the programme, there were some persons who used to misbehave. But since the intervention, they have changed; we have also received life skills training. Some people lacked comprehension, and through training offered by the PMI they are now better able to comprehend and answer questions,” he points out.

Meanwhile, Mr. Simmonds is appealing to Jamaicans to volunteer with CSJP and similar programmes or non-governmental organisations.

“Volunteering is very important…for social development…we cannot leave it on (the) Government or the Church to do everything. As individuals, we need to ask ourselves…‘what can we do?’…and then we need to see how best to go about doing that,” he implores.

CSJP supports the VIP and other similar interventions through funding from the Inter-American Development Bank, United Kingdom Department for International Development and Global Affairs Canada.