News

'We are still waiting'

Gov’t yet to take up Mustard Seed’s offer to care for troubled girls

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaocaobserver.com

Thursday, January 10, 2013    

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MORE than a month after it presented a proposal to the Government to stem the crisis facing female teenagers in penal institutions, the Mustard Seed Communities says it is "still waiting" for an answer.

The offer to take girls serving time in adult prisons and placing them in a home that it would run came in November following the suicide of 16-year-old Vanessa Wint inside the Horizon Remand Centre in Kingston.

Outraged at the incident, Mustard Seed — a non-profit organisation founded in 1978 to care for abandoned and handicapped children — said it was willing, with help from Government, to run a facility to house teenage girls who found themselves in trouble with the law.

That proposal, put on the table after a meeting with Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, still has no apparent takers, the Jamaica Observer has been informed.

"I was at that meeting. We left the meeting and it was suggested that we do the proposal and bear in mind it's not just a Mustard Seed proposal because there are other partners in this. We sent the proposal to Minister Hanna and to the Office of the Children's Advocate as well as the Minister of National Security Peter Bunting. We haven't heard anything back from them," Father Garvin Augustine, executive director of Mustard Seed Communities International, told the Observer on Tuesday.

"We are still waiting; that's the latest," the Catholic priest said.

But while no response has come to the Mustard Seed proposal, the youth and culture minister has said that land has been identified for the construction of a Best Practice Correctional and Remand Facility for girls.

Father Augustine said while the plan was commendable the situation demanded an earlier intervention.

"We know it's not easy; the Minister has said that. She claims they are going to have a facility built and so on and that's great, but the thing is while the grass is growing the horse is starving," he pointed out.

"We are willing to do whatever we can as stated in the proposal. We want to do something to help the situation," the Mustard Seed director told the Observer.

The group said further that none of its suggestions regarding two potential sites had met with any response. Mustard Seed had its eyes on the Malvern Special High School, located in Potsdam, St Elizabeth which was being built to provide residential behavioural management for between 40 and 60 delinquent boys who are deemed too disruptive for the regular school environment and a facility in Stony Hill St Andrew.

"There is a facility at Stony Hill that is lying idle, it was suggested we could probably use that, so we want to look at that as a possible interim housing location. It was being used in the past and for some reason is no longer being used. I think it is owned by government and we wanted to retrofit it. But there has been nothing, absolutely no word," Father Augustine said.

He has, in the meantime, dismissed claims that the organisation had been needling the Government.

"There were rumblings that we were pressuring Government ministers; that's not the intention. It's just that we want to see how we can work together and assist in the best interest of the people. So we will wait and see what comes out of it. We are not going to force anybody's hand; we are not going to push unduly; at some point we might have to revisit but in the meantime we wait to see if we hear back from them," he said.

In the meantime, he said Mustard Seed was going to "take the minister at her word".

"We don't want to be knocking anyone; that's not the intention. The intention is to assist where we can. We assist in situations where people lie in need so that's what we are offering," he said.

"It's sad what is happening. We are aware of the constraints the Government is facing. We want to work with them. We are at the service of the people," the Mustard Seed director added.

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