A desperate plea for juvenile justice

Published: Sunday | February 15, 2009

Glenda Simms, Contributor

The Sunday Gleaner of August 14, 2005 carried a story titled 'Juveniles a Burden on Correctional Services', written by Leonardo Blair. In this report the Jamaican society was informed that the correctional system was overburdened by delinquent young men and the authorities were forced to accommodate them in adult institutions. It was pointed out that the St Andrew Juvenile Remand Centre in Stony Hill which had a capacity to house 48 inmates was always full.

In discussing the types of male juveniles who were presenting great challenge to the system, Major Richard Reese, who as commissioner of the Jamaican Correctional Services, was credited with a description of many of the issues that confronted the authorities in 2005. These included the following:

  • Most of the male juveniles were under 18 years and were detained on gun-related charges

  • Many of their parents are not taking seriously their parenting roles.

  • Young boys are being recruited by adults into a life of crime.

  • It is not unusual for a parent to hand over a difficult boy child to the courts

  • Large numbers of these parents have too many children

  • The many young boys hanging out at the stoplights at the major intersections of our city streets are the outcome of the lack of parental supervision.

    Blair pointed out that Major Reese was convinced that the society had to do more in "treating the source of the problem".

    While acknowledging the complexity of these social problems, Blair's article listed the following initiatives that were carried out at Tamarind Farm in an effort to rehabilitate young incarcerated males.

  • Literacy programmes

  • Tailoring skills

  • Upholstery

  • Masonry

  • Carpentry and farming.

    Since 2005 the local media have not highlighted the issues of juvenile delinquents to any extent.

    Like most other prime-time issues 'the nine-day-wonder syndrome' created a deafening silence until February 10 when the headlines of The Gleaner blared 'Prison Unrest'. On this date, the Jamaican nation was told that female juveniles were creating chaos at the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre .

    It was reported that this was not a simple rumble. This was a serious event and one warder was stabbed and another was doused with urine and faeces by the 'irate juveniles'.

    According to The Gleaner report, the chairman of the Jamaican Federation of Correctional Services has stated that the situation was serious and the adult inmates were demanding that the juveniles be removed from Fort Augusta.

    Publicly funded

    This situation should serve to remind us that the Government of Jamaica has ratified the Convention on The Rights of the Child and has since put in place the fully staffed and publicly funded Child Development Agency and the Office of the Children's Advocate - agencies which are obligated to be proactive rather than reactive in the promotion of the human rights of all children (incarcerated or free).

    These agencies know that the CRC defines a child to mean every human being below the age of 18 years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

    Furthermore, the Convention states unambiguously the following in Article 17:

    Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age.

    In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child's best interest not to do so.

    It is clear that the placement of young female offenders, who by definition are children, in Fort Augusta, is a clear violation of the State's commitment under the CRC.

    From my understanding of the changes that Major Reese needed to make in the Correctional Services, I venture to state categorically that the gentleman understood the need for a gendered analytic approach to the rehabilitation of those whose lives are controlled by the state once they enter the prisons and juvenile facilities in Jamaica. Having said that, I have no information on the gender-appropriate interventions that were taken during Major Reese's tenure.

    Policies and practices

    Perhaps, now that he is the permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security, he will have the authority to put in place gender-mainstreaming policies and practices that will result in the transformation of the correctional facilities from punitive, repressive and inhumane punishing centres to rehabilitative, productive and civilised centres where criminals and workers come to grips with the state's prerogative to punish those who commit horrendous crimes while maintaining the essential humanity of those who are incarcerated.

    It is such lofty ideals against which President Barack Obama has ordered the closing of the Guantanamo facilities in Cuba.

    Obviously, the approaches taken to the rehabilitation of female juveniles and children who are involved in anti-social and criminal behaviours has to be different from those developed to deal with male juveniles.

    From the contemporary trends it is becoming clear that the involvement of girls in more violent crimes is increasing even though girls commit far less crime than boys and young men. What is true for the girls in the society is also true of the patterns of adult women involvement in crime. The population of the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre is a small percentage of the population in the male penal facilities in the country.

    In order to truly understand and deal with the gender differences in crime, there needs to be more differential study of the violence committed by juvenile girls in the Jamaican society.

    Such a database and a deep understanding of the social forces that impact on the development of the girl child is needed at this time.

    Included in the questions to be probed would be the following:

  • What are the gendered profiles of the types of crimes committed by boys as opposed to those committed by girls?

  • What factors motivate and predispose females to get involved in crime and delinquency?

  • Are female delinquents showing signs of repression by the conventional stereotypic ideas about women's passivity and dependency? In other words, are girls moving more and more actively and consciously into a space where they are merely adopting the established masculine prerogative of behaviours such as drinking, stealing, fighting and ganja smoking?

  • What percentage of female juveniles has been exposed to sexual and physical abuse at different points in their passage from babyhood to childhood?

  • What role does the socio-economic background play in the romanticisation of the 'bad girl' persona?

  • What percentage of female juveniles has been bullied in primary schools?

  • How many juvenile offenders have lived in homes with both mother and father?

  • How many are from broken homes or from women-headed households?

  • How many of the female troublemakers have a history of running away from home, attempting suicide, have had premature pregnancies or live in substandard housing?

  • How many of these girls have ever had 'a room of their own'?

    The research on criminality during childhood points to the fact that girls tend to become juvenile delinquents when they lose emotional touch with family members. Against this background, it is important for the Jamaican Correctional Services to employ workers who have the intellectual capacity and the critical analytic skills to initiate rehabilitative approaches that will work for girls and others that will meet the needs of boys.

    We must continue to stress to the authorities that every child who has committed a crime that results in incarceration should have the right to be housed in a facility that is designed to meet the social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual needs that will lead to the rehabilitation of such a child.

    Gender-specific interventions

    In particular, female juveniles are entitled to gender-specific interventions and they should not be housed at anytime in an adult facility or in a facility constructed and arranged to give them the opportunity to be able to hoard their faeces, urine and other bodily wastes in their effort to lash out at a society, defend themselves and humiliate those who are employed to protect them.

    Angry girls will grow up to be angry women unless the society intervenes in meaningful ways to help them to understand their essential humanity. The ultimate inhumane experience for young people is the intimate relationship with their bodily wastes as missiles because they have no other means of dealing with the horrors of poverty, sexual and physical abuse, neglect and all the other atrocities that have shaped their young lives.

    When state institution create 'young pooper scoopers' the society can anticipate the stench of older 'scoopers' in the future.

    Glenda Simms is a consultant on gender issues. Feedback may be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com.