Judge, former prison boss concerned about child offender rehab
REESE... when a person comes into conflict with the law and let's say they are awarded a custodial order or sentence, the individual is admitted to a reception facility, they are assessed, and it's usually referred to a risk-needs assessment

A recommendation by Supreme Court Judge Justice Courtney Daye that ongoing psychotherapy be part of a childcare plan for the rehabilitation of the 17-year-old he last month sentenced to life imprisonment has once again spotlighted defects in the correctional system.

Justice Daye on September 24 sentenced the Westmoreland teen who, in 2018 at the age of 13, lured his nine-year-old neighbour and raped, buggered and smothered her to death, leaving her to be found by a search party of frantic community members.

In handing down the sentence of life imprisonment with eligibility for parole after 23 years and nine months, Justice Daye endorsed the recommendations of the psychiatrist that the teen should receive psychotherapy as part of his childcare plan while in custody.

In referencing a proposed amendment to the childcare law which says, "where a young inmate is detained in an adult correctional centre, the superintendent shall have due regard to the best interest of the child and cause a childcare plan to be prepared", Justice Daye said while retribution had to be part of the sentencing, rehabilitation also had to be taken into account.

Justice Courtney Daye in handing down the sentence of life imprisonment with the eligibility for parole after 23 years said while retribution had to be part of the sentencing, rehabilitation had to be taken into account

"We have a recent legislation that is saying even if a young offender is going to get a time in a correctional institution or juvenile facility, there should be a childcare plan — which is a plan to rehabilitate and reintegrate the person so that even when you have somebody who has committed a serious offence and you have to spend time, it means one has to think about what steps to take as part of sentencing," the judge said.

Presently, childcare plans are developed for children committed to State facilities by the courts. The provision of those plans however is not mandated by law, making it so that no one can be held accountable in cases where none are developed. The preparation of a tailored plan is one of the main amendments to the Childcare and Protection Act which is to be overhauled.

Former Commissioner of Corrections Major Richard Reese, in responding to the call by Justice Daye, said though ideal, scarce resources might cause it to be outside the reach of those who need it most.

"When a person comes into conflict with the law, and let's say they are awarded a custodial order or sentence, the individual is admitted to a reception facility, they are assessed, and it's usually referred to a risk-needs assessment. After the assessment, that informs an intervention plan. After that plan is developed you now have to execute it; but if you don't have the ongoing assessment resources, you don't have the counselling services, and you don't have their intervention or rehabilitation regimes [then] that transformational journey may start, may not start, may not continue," Major Reese explained.

He said this situation could make it so that, at the end of an individual's order or sentence, either none or some level of assessment and intervention is done.

"So I think, at the policy level and at the administrative level, we all have to be honest with each other to say this is what should happen but these are the gaps, and then seek to start filling them — because those same children invariably become adult offenders and it shouldn't be that it gets to a point where a child has some challenge and is still in the community to the point where another child loses their life," Reese told the Observer.

According to the former prison boss, early interventions are a necessity.

"Some people say the child is being disruptive in school — do not expel them; transform them while they are in school, [though] not all can be. And then the problem becomes even more widespread until you have a murder or a serious injury to a child, a teacher, a parent.

So, we have to recognise that you need to have different interventions. Some interventions can be successful at the school level, some can be successful with medication, some can be successful by institutionalising the person," he told the Observer.

In the meantime, Reese acknowledged that assessment facilities, whether in penal settings or even in schools, "are just not there".

"People think assessment is a one shot [but] there are series. It's like four phases, and even then, having assessed, then there is the intervention. So it comes back to a resource issue, and if you don't have the resources the person will eventually become an adult offender. Justice Daye must recognise that assessment and intervention, even at the school level, is also not there. So if you don't identify the problem early, it escalates and makes its way into the correctional centres," he told the Observer.

In August this year wards of the State, during the fifth staging of the National Children's Summit at the National Indoor Sport Centre in St Andrew, expressed disgust with the "shortcomings" of the juvenile justice system which they say has only helped to push some of their peers through the cracks and into criminality.

In a declaration compiled by members of the Children's Advisory Panel which was handed over to the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), the youngsters said, "the juvenile justice system in our opinion is not sufficiently prepared to rehabilitate juveniles into the society".

This further highlighted what they said was the "experiences of numerous young people who have endured hardships and slipped through the cracks of the educational system as a result of shortcomings in the juvenile justice system", basing their stance on recent statistics from the Department of Correctional Services.

In January of 2021, according to the Department of Correctional Services, 75 children were reintegrated into the educational system but by December of the same 2021 only 22 of the original 75 were still in school. The remaining 53 children had either been expelled, suspended or ceased attending school altogether.

According to the youngsters, some of the families of their offending peers "refuse to care for them because they believe the children were beyond help and beyond change".

"They have been left to fend for themselves without the support of their families and, regrettably, there is a significant likelihood that they have committed new crimes and returned to the lifestyle they previously escaped," the declaration said.

Additionally, State wards are insisting that, "there are instances where juvenile offenders under the age of 18 are dealt with similarly to adult offenders".

"If these situations are not dealt with carefully and promptly my fellow youth may suffer irreversible damage that would alter their lives for the worse," they declared.

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

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