Armadale story: some good news, some bad news

Armadale story: some good news, some bad news

BY TANESHA MUNDLE Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

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IT has been one year, two months and five days since seven teenage girls perished in the deadly fire at Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre in St Ann.

But today, 33 of the 62 girls who were forced to live in barbaric conditions, while in the State's care at Armadale, are back in the comfort of their homes, living with their parents or guardians.

Another 18 of them are being housed at a new location at Diamond Crest Villa in Manchester, where the conditions are more suitable.

Still, the story that grabbed national attention and caused outrage, is still unfolding, as four of the Armadale girls are currently being held at the Horizon Remand Centre, an adult facility.

According to Gloria Thompson, investigation officer in the Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA), two of those girls were among those who were sent home on licence, after finishing their sentences but later ran away and were taken back into the system.

The other two were among those who were being housed at the Diamond Crest Villa but because of their uncontrollable behaviour were sent to an adult facility due to lack of space in the juvenile centres.

Jamaicans for Justice Executive Director Carolyn Gomes had raised concerns about the detention of the juveniles in adult prisons.

Another concern was that many of the girls had been released into the same situation that had caused them to be placed in the State's care.

However, Thompson, who sought to put Gomes' concerns to rest, said that while the OCA shared her concern regarding those who had been placed in the adult facilities, her office had been working to ensure that the girls were treated properly and were not mixing with the adult prisoners.

She said Children's Advocate Mary Clarke had met with the Commissioner of Corrections Lieutenant Colonel Sean Prendergast who assured her that the girls would be treated well.

Thompson added: "We inspected where they are being housed ourselves and whatever concerns we had we expressed it to the commissioner and he gave us his commitment to ensure that the girl are well taken care of."

"Even though it is not ideal, it is where they have to be because there are no other facilities to accommodate them but we are ensuring that they are taken care of," she noted.

The girls, she said, were allowed to attend regular classes and were let out of their cells for play and recreation.

In addition, Thompson said she had been in constant contact with most of the girls and had not heard any reports from them regarding problems at their homes.

"Most of the girls who were sent home are still at the age where they can be enrolled in secondary institutions and their parents are currently working to enrol them in a school," Thompson said.

"One is working, about five of them are now in school and the others are really just trying to get back into school," she said.

"Those who were sent home and still have needs were referred to the Child Development Agency or our office for financial assistance and for counselling for the family."

Most of the girls who were injured in the fire needed medical attention in terms of filling prescription for discomfort and one for a mental condition that was exacerbated by the incident, Thompson reported.

One girl who was badly burnt on her hands and back, now needs plastic surgery as she is unable to write. The Ministry of Health had been approached for their assistance.

Asked about how the girls were coping, Thompson said: "Most of them are still suffering from the trauma and are having flashbacks. Some of them won't verbalise it but their mothers will tell you that sometimes they just space out and some of them go into depression.

"Some of them are still mourning the loss of their friends and some are still angry. I don't think I've met anyone of them that has totally gotten over it," Thompson added.

However, she said that the OCA has contracted the service of attorney Jacqueline Samuels-Brown and will be filing lawsuits for all of the girls to seek compensation from the Government.

"Some of them lost their valuables in the fire, while others have developed psychological problems and others are suffering from insomnia as a result of the fire," Thompson explained.

As it relates to the conditions of the girls who are now being held at the Diamond Crest, she said the facility was an improvement but was not totally ideal.

"There are faults in the infrastructure and most of the classrooms are leaking, when it rains they have to be setting pans," Thompson told the Observer.

Furthermore, the environment was not healthy as "there was something in the air that was giving the girls rashes on their skin".

But on the bright side, she said, all the girls slept in their own beds as opposed to Armadale where they had to share beds or sleep on
the floor and all the dorms had their own bathrooms, with regular and unrestricted access.

As for lockdown, an unauthorised form of punishment that was continuously meted out to the girls at Armadale, Thompson said that as far as she knew, that had not been done since the fire and the OCA was ensuring that it remained "a thing of the past".

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