YOUTH and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna says Government will be seeking to increase the number of social workers counselling juvenile wards at the Fort Augusta Adult Correction Centre as the authorities move to construct a "therapeutic facility" better able to facilitate the minors.
Minister Hanna made the disclosure yesterday following a tour of the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional facility, where dozens of juvenile girls are being held.
There has been growing public criticism over the imprisonment of juveniles at adult facilities.
"One of the things we have realised, working with the psychiatrists, working with our inter-ministerial committee, is that a lot of our young women are suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorders, in many instances because of sexual abuse, because of neglect, because of sexuality issues," said Hanna. "And we felt that we should streamline some of the operational things that we were doing, for instance the building of a therapeutic facility which looks at behavioural modification," she continued. Some of the wards' stories, she said, were very disheartening to her, especially because she is a mother.
The minister said her visit was aimed particularly at understanding the issues being faced by the wards, particularly those who come in conflict with the law; to develop policy initiatives; and to solicit the resources needed to support such plans. So far, Cabinet has been supportive of the proposed therapeutic facility; however, details about its construction and offerings cannot be revealed for another four weeks, she said.
"One of the things we discussed at the [Cabinet] retreat was the therapeutic facility, which will look at behaviour modification," said the minister, noting that, in the interim, increasing the number of social workers would greatly help the teenagers to cope with their conditions.
"Some of the young women need people to talk to, they need counselling, they just want to feel that sense of compassion. So, perhaps, we can see if we can have more social workers from the Child Development Agency coming in, just to be present with some of the young ladies until we can get where we need to get," she said, asking Jamaicans for patience as her ministry addresses the national issue.
The minister, in the meantime, sought to dispel public perception of Fort Augusta as a "dungeon of darkness".
"What I saw today were facilities that were clean, open, airy. What I also saw were facilities for training," she emphasised, inviting Dr Aggrey Irons, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica — who also participated in the tour — to speak on the reports of juvenile suicide attempts within prisons.
Last November, 16-year-old Vanessa Wint, a ward at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre, committed suicide inside the facility. Her death preceded at least three reports of juvenile suicide attempts, re-enforcing concerns that the conditions inside the facilities may have provoked the acts.
Irons explained, however, that: "We are dealing with a special population of young people who are dealing with depression, post-traumatic stress, and you will notice that the successful suicide probably happened by accident."
"I don't think the media or the rest of the country should get carried away about a wave of suicides; that is totally not true," he said. "There was one successful, perhaps accidental, suicide, and there is going to be a lot of attempted suicides."
"When you understand depression, you understand that it is part of the symptomotology. [So is] things like cutting. It's that kind of behaviour," he explained.
Irons said that doctors can determine if a suicide was an accident by reviewing a patient's medical records.