ICOPA - Trinidad and Tobago

This year is the 50th year of independence in Trinidad and Tobago and presents an ideal time to re-think institutions, examine assumptions, and explore new ideas on developing a just society. 

In Trinidad & Tobago, the history of the use of "abolition" goes back to the abolition of slavery; today abolition is used in relation to the death penalty. In September 2011, a State of Emergency was called in Trinidad and the prison population swiftly doubled. The success of the State of Emergency is contested; nonetheless this event will provide a fascinating backdrop for considering penal abolition.

Earlier this year, the UNDP published a detailed report on Human Development and Citizen Security, which looked at 7 Caribbean islands, including Trinidad & Tobago. The report focussed on policing, the court service and prisons and made several recommendations which will be of great interest to conference participants including:

  • The need to shift from a culture of crime suppression and exclusion to one of timely interventions that assist human development.
  • Minimising the use of incarceration for all but the most serious offenders
  • Establishing rehabilitation strategies and alternative sanctions that encourage offenders to live non-criminal lives
  • Expanding restorative justice programmes

The UNDP report provides a quick entry to the local cultural context and the problem of empathy deficit. Our murder statistics are among the highest in the world, peaking at 550 in a population of 1.3 million in 2009. For information on criminalized harm and victimization read the UNODC report on Crime, Violence and Development or Dorn Townsend’s report on Gangs, Guns and Governance.

Ordering, regulating and punishing are not ICOPA staples, yet, chaos will not get us anywhere. We need to premise a just society on some orderly foundation. In Trinidad & Tobago, we are figuring out what a just society is as a context for workable justice systems. Paradoxically, some of the drivers of change are found at the back end of the criminal justice system here in Trinidad. Almost a decade ago, a Task Force on Prison Reform and Transformation found that some of the change agents advocating for re-constituting community justice are prison officers. They do not believe penal abolition is possible, yet they know first-hand the injustices of the penal system and live with the expansion of reform, and they are curious about a discussion around abolition.

Visiting Trinidad

Of course Trinidad is not all guns and gangs! Trinidad is a wonderful place to visit and we would strongly recommend that you take the time to see some of the beautiful island before or after the conference – or why not visit our sister island Tobago?

See Travel for more details