CDA: We are working on implementing places of safety recommendations
THE Child Development Agency (CDA) has responded to charges by human rights group Jamaicans for Justice that it has fallen down in its duty of care towards wards of the state.
The rights lobby group on Tuesday lamented that three years after fire claimed the lives of seven girls at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre, the recommendations arising from the Armadale Report, following the Commission of Enquiry into their deaths, have still not been fully implemented.
“Despite this very detailed report, the Government of Jamaica still appears to lack a sense of urgency to effectively implement safe, nurturing conditions for children in its care,” the JFJ complained.
It said despite one of the recommendations being the need for regular fire drills and the installation of sufficient fire extinguishers, there have been at least two public incidents of breaches in safety measures for state-run facilities housing children in the past year alone.
The JFJ also complained of the non implementation of key recommendations of the 2004 Keating Report.
Additionally, the rights group said that despite the construction and opening of the Metcalfe Street facility for juveniles, the Government continues to keep children in police lock-ups where they are housed with adults in deplorable conditions in a continuing breach of local and international law.
But the CDA, in a point-bypoint response late Tuesday, said it was continuing its effort to implement safety measures across all institutions.
“The CDA is working with the Jamaica Fire Brigade to conduct safety audits of fire safety procedures and equipment at all institutions. This process is underway, and will be ongoing,” Communications Manager Prudence Barnes told the Jamaica Observer. She said the Jamaica Fire Brigade is also assisting the CDA with training institution staff and wards on fire safety processes and procedures.
Furthermore, the CDA said fire drills and emergency exercises have taken place or have been scheduled in many institutions.
“Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are in place at all child care facilities. This equipment is regularly serviced. In instances where equipment is need of servicing, this is treated as high priority,” Barnes said.
Senior investigative officer in the Office of the Children's Advocate, Courtney Berry told the Observer that while he knew that “children are still being held in police lock-ups” he could not confirm that they “are being held with adults”.
“Children are still being held in the custody of the police and this is so because at times they have to go to Court before the decision is taken to remand them. My experience is that when children are in the custody of the police they are not held with adults, they are held separately from the adults. On the ground, what I have seen is that they are held separately,” Berry explained.
He said there were 37 children in the custody of the police across the island as at May 18 this year. He also countered the claims of the JFJ relating to the absence of fire drills and equipment.
“I cannot confirm that. Those homes that I have checked so far the drills are being done. We have a schedule that we have started working on and since the year started we have visited about five homes and all of them these measures have been done,” Berry told the Observer.
Meanwhile, Commissioner of Corrections Lieutenant Colonel Sean Prendergast said the picture was not as grim as painted by the JFJ.
“That is true (that children are still being held in police lockups) but the situation has improved significantly since the opening of the Metcalfe Street facility. The vast majority of juveniles are now held on remand at the Metcalfe Street Secured Juvenile facility,” Prendergast told the Observer.
“The arrangement is now that if a juvenile is taken into custody by the police that juvenile cannot be taken to any of the DCS (Department of Correctional Services) facilities until and unless they go before the courts. It is only after the courts make a determination, and formally remand them in custody, that they are taken to Metcalfe Street or one of the female facilities that we have,” he explained.
Colonel Prendergast said the aim of the police was to now “make sure that they minimise the time that these juveniles remain in police lock-ups and have them taken before the courts at the soonest time possible”.
“To be quite frank, the situation is much better than it was say two years ago, and we now have a boys’ remand centre at Metcalfe Street and the population is ranging from 170 to 150 on a regular basis, so we can just imagine instead of having 170 boys in police lockups across the island they are now in a properly structured facility. It is much better than it was before,” he added.
The $168-million Metcalfe Street juvenile facility was officially opened last year and can house 208 male wards.
In 2009, following the fire at Armadale in St Ann in which seven female juvenile wards died, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding ordered that all minors be removed from such facilities. Following the 32-day enquiry into the tragedy — also ordered by Golding — the Department of Corrections devised a programme that was supposed to see the renovation of three facilities which would be used to house juvenile wards of the state.