End State-sanctioned violence against
Recent events should raise concern nationally regarding the treatment of juveniles in children'shomes and penal institutions.nd pena

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) and its partners Stand Up For Jamaica and Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network are calling on the Houses of Parliament to urgently amend the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA). The time has come for the Government to decisively put an end to the long history of State-sanctioned violence against children, which tends to disproportionately affect those from poor socio-economic backgrounds.

The recently released report by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) highlighted the deplorable and inhumane conditions of juvenile detention facilities across the country. The report shows that children within the penal system continue to be deprived of their basic rights, including the right to an education and access to adequate psychosocial support.

For years, the undersigned have vocalised concerns regarding the gaps in the legislation that allow for children, without crime, who are deemed “uncontrollable”, to be 'jailed' at juvenile correctional centres. For those with criminal convictions, the punitive measures, in most instances, are far too harsh and are not proportional to the offence committed, the child's age, and the ability for reform. We maintain that the legislative provisions that facilitate these conditions are unconstitutional and must be repealed.

While there have been some improvement over the years, we contend that enough has not been done and, frankly, we posit that successive governments have failed and continue to fail our children. We also note recent reports of a ward being fatally shot by a prison guard and a child being held prisoner in an adult facility, with the very real possibility of being subjected to abuse.

Based on the DCS reports and general concerns, we raise several questions for Parliament's deliberation:

1) Is there a continued practice of children being held in adult prisons and police lock-ups with adults? If so, how many?

2) Who is ultimately responsible for the ongoing abuse being meted out to children as highlighted in the DCS report? Who or which agency will be held accountable?

3) Given the significant gaps in rehabilitative efforts by the State for children under correctional orders, what is the State's response in addressing the DCS's and previous reports of similar claims?

To assist Parliament in its deliberations, it is our view that all matters concerning children fall under the purview of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), including children in conflict with the law. Also, an inter-ministerial response is required with input from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health to adequately address the gaps in the provision of adequate education and mental health services.

Further, while there is no official data around children being remanded at adult prisons, a recent newspaper article of one child being imprisoned at the Horizon adult facility is a clear indication of the practice still being done, and Parliament must both investigate and address this.

Accordingly, as outlined below, we call for urgent legal reform aimed at ensuring that Jamaica's children are fully protected from all forms of violence and abuse.

I) Repeal provisions relating to children “beyond parental control”.

Under Section 24, parents or guardians may bring a child to court if they believe that they are “unable to control the child”, and if the court accepts this claim it may issue a correctional order sentencing the child to be imprisoned in a juvenile correctional center under Section 24 (2)(a).

We submit that the law provides no parameters for determining what behaviour satisfies the definition of an uncontrollable child. In addition, this section does not indicate what the court ought to consider in determining sentencing or a proposed limit for the duration of the sentence.

Concerns have been repeatedly raised that the law is misused as a means of addressing routine disciplinary issues by infringing on children's rights. Further, rather than deeming a child uncontrollable, it is imperative that the adequate social interventions be provided to the family to ensure their ability to care for the child.

II) Remove the possibility of incarcerating children in adult institutions.

Incarcerating children in adult institutions is a long-standing practice that needs to end, given the repercussions it has on children. While there have been significant efforts to address this, it remains in law and is still practised.

Following precautionary measures made by JFJ in 2013 on behalf of children victimised by the State, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights declared that Jamaica's legislation, specifically Section 78 (2), authorising the practice of detaining children in adult correctional and remand centres violated international human rights laws and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules). Parliament must now act by repealing all sections of the CCPA which authorises the detention of children in adult prisons.

III) Remove the possibility for imprisonment of children for life or excessively long periods.

We posit that the best interest of the child is never served by protracted incarceration, and we recommend the following:

• Abolishing the possibility being sentenced to imprisonment for life under Section 78 (1) of CCPA that allows for children 14 years and older to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

• Section 78 (5) allows the court to incarcerate children 12 and 13 years old for up to 25 years. Parliament should consider reducing the number of years that is permitted under law. Again, to send a 12-year-old to prison for more than double the number of years they have been alive is excessive and serves little public benefit.

We, therefore, call upon you, our legislators, to act upon the report of the 2018 joint select committee and urgently reform sections 24 and 78 of the CCPA, as well as other sections of the legislation that remain of concern.

The undersigned also urge the Government to provide children the “care and protection” under Section 8 of the CCPA, in which they are offered the necessary therapeutic-based interventions that sufficiently address the underlying issues of assault and abuse or untreated mental health issues.

We further urge the Government to strengthen the National Child Diversion Programme to prevent or minimise children from getting in trouble with the law and entering the penal system. With a 40 per cent recidivism rate, it is imperative that the relevant sections of the law be overhauled into a social force that produces positive behaviour instead of being punitive in its approach.

The above piece is co-authored by Jamaicans for Justice, Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network, and Stand Up for Jamaica.

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