Kids locked up by agencies set up to protect them
Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
The Child Development Agency (CDA) is describing as "misleading" official documents that show its officers taking children in need of care and protection to police lock-ups.
But that has not prevented Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna from reportedly demanding a full explanation.
While there has been no official word from Hanna, high-level sources in the ministry say she intends to order a process audit of the CDA to, among other things, verify exactly what happens for that kind of classification to be on the police reports.
The official law-enforcement documents seen by The Sunday Gleaner show that children, who have not been accused of any crime, are held in the same lock-ups used to house adults accused of committing crimes.
The documents also show that some of these children are forced to stay in police custody for more than two weeks.
TAKEN FROM ABUSIVE HOMES
Copies of the "list of children in police custody" prepared by the Detention and Courts Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) have revealed that even children who were taken from abusive homes end up in the rugged police lock-ups.
The documents show that oftentimes the children are taken to the police by officials of the CDA, who are paid to protect them and to ensure that this particular breach of the law does not take place.
However, Carla Francis Edie, chief executive officer of the CDA, and others in the agency say the official police documents are incorrect.
"It is an error. We found that out today and we are going to be forwarding a letter to the head of the Detention and Courts Division tomorrow," Francis Edie told our news team last Thursday.
"It is an error which shouldn't come on the detention and courts list. The CDA does not remand children to police stations.
"We cannot take a child in need of care and protection to a police lock-up … . That defeats the purpose," said an adamant Francis Edie.
In a subsequent emailed response, the agency further claimed that having reviewed the Detention and Courts Divisions list, it believes that the information as captured, which identifies the arresting officer as the CDA, is misleading.
"For example, today (Friday) the CDA received the Detention and Courts listing for this week, ending October 12, and one of the entries again lists the CDA as the arresting officer.
"When we did our investigation, it showed that the child was taken by the police from a place of safety to court. Afterwards, the child was to have been returned to the facility. However, the child was instead taken to a police station by the police officer," the CDA said in its respone.
NOT BUYING STORY
But Dr Carolyn Gomes, executive director of human-rights lobby Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), is not buying the CDA's denial.
According to Gomes, the CDA's response was incredulous.
"That excuse makes no sense. It is not a mistake in one report. If it is a mistake, it's a mistake in dozens and dozens of reports," said Gomes.
"Why wasn't it corrected previously? The claims come from many police divisions in their reports to CDA and nobody saw it?
"Is it that they don't read the reports and have the mistakes corrected, or is it that it is not a mistake? It is highly unlikely that it is a mistake that would go uncorrected for so long," argued Gomes.
The human-rights activist charged that it was unconscionable to think that children removed from abusive homes were being placed in jail.
"To put a child who needs care and protection in a police lock-up is a disgrace, and to have the CDA putting them in there is a breach of the law," she charged.
Gomes continued: "If it's a mistake, it shows a high degree of incompetence to allow such an egregious mistake of that nature to persist for so long."