For our children's sake, Minister Hanna...

Monday, December 17, 2012    

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We wait with bated breath to hear what Youth and Culture Minister Miss Lisa Hanna will say this week on the issue of juveniles being held in adult prisons. We hope that what Miss Hanna will tell the country at a planned news conference will go beyond the usual announcements of grand plans — so loved by our politicians — to actionable measures with delivery timelines and, if necessary, penalties for any person, agency or Government department found to be dragging their feet on what has been a most egregious wrong against our children.

While we share the frustration of civil society and human rights groups at the lack of action on this issue by the Government, we would not go as far as saying that the minister should take the blame for the recent death of young Ms Vanessa Wint at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre.

However, we would acknowledge that Miss Hanna is not among the very few Cabinet ministers who seem to be performing in a Government that is obviously adrift and appears to be overwhelmed by the country's problems.

That the Government applied urgency to the issue of the treatment of children in conflict with the law only after expressions of outrage by Mustard Seed founder Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon, Jamaicans For Justice and the Griffin Trust suggests that the State never regarded it as a priority.

After all, it is now well over three years since former Prime Minister Bruce Golding ordered that children should be removed from adult correctional facilities.

Readers will recall that the tragedy that triggered Mr Golding's instruction was the fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correction Centre in St Ann in May 2009, which killed seven young female wards of the State.

To be fair, the Government recently opened the Metcalfe Street Juvenile Remand Centre for boys, and it is to be commended for that. However, the Administration has not, so far, provided a suitable facility for girls, and is continuing to break the law by housing them in the same facility as adults.

And, as if that is not bad enough, the Government has signalled that it intends to move these teenage girls, along with the general adult population at the Fort Augusta Prison, to the South Camp Rehabilitation Centre, the infamous Gun Court. What nonsense!

Add to that the astonishing revelation from a study by the Office of the Children's Advocate that approximately 50 per cent of children in correctional institutions are there for non-violent offences, including 26 per cent of them for being what is termed "uncontrollable", and you get a picture of the uncaring nature of the State.

In yesterday's edition of the Sunday Observer, Jamaicans For Justice shared aspects of a presentation made by Ms Sheila Mitchell to a forum it hosted on December 10 to mark International Human Rights Day.

Ms Mitchell, the chief probation officer in Santa Clara County, San Jose, California, introduced a programme in that jurisdiction, which has been judged as a best practice in dealing with juvenile offenders.

The model, JFJ explained, "focuses on diversion of children with non-violent or minor offences into community-based programmes and providing smaller, rehabilitation-centred facilities for those convicted of serious offences. They work with families, partner agencies and the community to provide youth with the skills to fulfil their needs in a socially responsible manner".

Minister Hanna would do well to engage Ms Mitchell with the aim of a collaboration of skills with the Government and interest groups here... for the sake of our children.





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