Sun | Sep 22, 2019

Armadale 'was very painful' - Harrison laments erosion of moral, ethical standards

Published:Tuesday | March 15, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer

OCHO RIOS, St Ann:

RETIRED JUSTICE Paul Harrison, who headed the commission of enquiry into the fire that killed seven wards of the state at Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre in St Ann in May 2009, says the incident was very painful and reflected an erosion of moral and ethical standards in Jamaica.

Addressing the installation ceremony of 46 new justices of the peace at Sunset Jamaica Grande in Ocho Rios on Friday, Harrison said the incident was one of two which reflected the breakdown, the other being the ranking of Jamaica at 87 on the Transparency International Corruption Index for 2010.

"Jamaica suffers today both from the erosion of moral and ethical standards and the neglect of those who can assist. We all need to display the proper care and approach to the less fortunate in our society; we have failed to do so in many respects," Harrison lamented. We do have an ailing society today, indifference to the needs of others, crime and violence, corruption and the disregard for truth are all evident around us."

Violation of J'can and UN standards

Regarding Armadale, Harrison said 23 girls in a room measuring 20 feet by 12 feet was a violation of Jamaica's building code and the United Nations' (UN) Beijing Rules, which set out standard minimum rules for the administration of juvenile justice.

"It was a breach of the building code because the building code of Jamaica regulates how much space should be given in a house, in dormitories and institutions and by calculation only five of them should be in that room of 20 by 12, only five! They had 23," Harrison said.

After the enquiry, Harrison blamed the incident on a combination of factors, which he reminded the gathering of.

"I said then of that situation, there were breaches of duty and administrative errors by the Department of Correctional Services, indifference and insensible action by public officials, troubled and unruly girls further traumatised by some unruly adults and unjust treatment of those girls. These factors, among others, combined with the negligent action of public officials, made the inevitable tragedy of Armadale. It was a very painful experience."

Could have been avoided

Harrison said the hearing revealed that there was no board of visiting justices of the peace at Armadale, similar to what exists at adult correctional services and made a recommendation that such a board be established.

"Some citizens from Alexandria used to assist in some welfare programme at Armadale, and if they had been allowed to continue, and if there was a board of visiting justices for Armadale, say 2008 or 2009, they would have observed those shortcomings, especially the housing in that 20 by 12 room. If such a board had existed it would have probably avoided what happened," he said.

Turning to the justices of the peace, Harrison said the role of the justices of the peace is a vital part of the judicial process.

He told them: "You as justices of the peace have a very wide ambit of involvement with the citizens of the society and that demands that your influence be more widespread and effective, every effort should be made in order to maintain a very high level of effectiveness in your communities and your functions - that is your duty."