Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Human-rights groups back Vanessa Wint ruling - Call for action to safeguard children in state care

Published:Saturday | June 25, 2016 | 6:00 AM

Several civil society and human-rights groups have called on the Government to urgently address the conditions of children in state care. The call comes as the groups react to the ruling issued by the jury in the coroner's inquest into the death of Vanessa Wint while in state care.

Jamaicans for Justice; Stand up for Jamaica; Jamaica Civil Society Forum; Caribbean Vulnerable Communities; Families Against State Terrorism; Peace Management Initiative; and Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays welcomed the ruling, which found the administration of the Horizon Remand Centre to be negligent in Wint's death, and called on the Government to take immediate action to safeguard the rights of children in state care.

"The ruling made by the jury in the coroner's inquest into the November 2012 suicide of 16-year-old Vanessa Wint at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre is a stark reminder that her death could have been avoided were the necessary systems put in place and a basic duty of care upheld," the groups said in a joint statement.

 

FLAWED SYSTEM

 

According to the groups, the operations of juvenile detention centres and places of safety place the lives of children at risk and continue to foster the conditions in which another Vanessa Wint-type incident could occur.

"The charge of neglect attributed to the authorities at Horizon should be levied at the entire state apparatus and the childcare system, which failed Vanessa and continues to fail the children it currently serves. For children sent to a juvenile facility, the approach continues to be one which focuses on punishment rather than rehabilitation," the statement added.

The groups further argued that the treatment meted out to children in correctional facilities does not address the root causes of their behaviour and heightens the emotional and psychological damage they have already suffered.

"It is in the best interest of children and the cash-strapped, overburdened correctional services to make incarceration a last resort. Harmful practices such as the excessive use of isolation and depriving children of family contact as a form of punishment only exacerbate the trauma that children in conflict with the law experience."

The groups have called on the Government to, among other things, fast-track implementation of the Child Diversion Programme, urgently review the Child Care and Protection Act, and the Corrections Act to address the issues faced by the children in juvenile correctional centres.