If we are serious about rectifying the shame of Armadale

If we are serious about rectifying the shame of Armadale

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

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The Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favour of six former wards of the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre, setting the stage for settlement of cases for another 26 girls who brought claims against the Government for breaches of their constitutional rights. Readers will recall the absolute shame visited upon this country on May 22, 2009 when fire destroyed the Armadale facility where they were being held.

Seven girls lost their lives in the fire, while several others were injured. The cause of the fire and the operations at the facility later became the subject of a commission of enquiry.

This settlement by the Government will not completely wipe away the stain, but it bodes well and sends a signal that there is hope for improved care for the helpless wards of the Jamaican State.

Importantly, the matter was handled in such a manner that the girls were not made to rehash and relive the trauma of May 22 that exposed the utter callousness prevailing in the childcare facilities across this island.

Lead attorney for the girls, Jacqueline Samuels- Brown informed us that judgement in favour of the claimants was on the basis of breaches of their constitutional rights and negligence on the part of those responsible for their care and supervision.

The claimants, she said, were also compensated for aggravated damages, meaning that they were awarded for the injury to their self-esteem, their feelings, and their dignity. The case appeared to have had bipartisan support.

Most of the work was advanced under the administration of former Justice Minister Mark Golding and was clearly not opposed by current Minister Delroy Chuck, based on the clear violation of the girls’ constitutional rights under the Charter of Rights in relation to the negligent care and deplorable conditions of their incarceration at Armadale.

But the matter is not over. It is critical that the Government moves quickly to make the payments to the girls. We all know how many people who have won cases against the State have had to wait, sometimes for years, to receive their compensation.

We have not been told how much money has been awarded to each girl, only that it runs in the millions.

This raises the question of how that money will be managed. The girls will need significant help in deciding the best way to invest their award to ensure that it is not simply squandered.

Jamaica owes a debt of gratitude to the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA), who made the claims while the girls were still minors.

We have no reason to believe that they were being schooled in money management and so the OCA will still need to continue its role in helping to guide the young women.

We continue to hope that the recommendations arising out of the report of the Armadale Commission of Enquiry and Monday’s judgement will be implemented to ensure, lack of resources notwithstanding, the continued improvement in the care of minors who have been declared wards of the State.

As a nation, we should collectively declare that there must never be another Armadale.

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