Juvenile justice has lost its way
THE EDITOR, Sir:
It is unfortunate that the Jamaican juvenile justice system has lost its traditional focus and 16-year-old Vanessa Wint had to die to remind us that the Horizon Adult Correctional Centre is not a place to house adolescents.
This youngster needed to be on the psychiatric ward of a hospital, where the necessary mental-health care that she required could be administered.
After 50 years of Independence, it goes without a doubt that the care of Jamaica's most vulnerable (children) is deficient in its adherence to basic human rights, such as health care. Regardless of circumstance, the child should not have died.
Remarkable juvenile programme
May this nation never forget that the pre-Independence system of governance administered by the colonial government had a remarkable juvenile programme that served to divert youthful offenders from the destructive punishments of the adult prison system. The purpose of this traditional juvenile system was to encourage rehabilitation based on the individual needs of each juvenile.
Juveniles were not charged with crimes; they were delinquents and were adjudicated as such. They were sent to reformatories or other vocational institutions.
Within a decade of Jamaica's Independence, we have witnessed, and have remained silent about, the continued legal reform within the juvenile system, particularly those matters dealing with serious offences. The immediate response of the Government is always tough punitive measures, accountability, and an expressed concern for public safety - even to the extent of naming decorated former military officers to lead the department.
It is this change of emphasis from rehabilitation to punishment that is responsible for what has gone wrong with the juvenile system of justice.
It is time that the nation pay less attention to law-enforcement advocates who want tougher sanctions by labelling the juvenile system as soft on crime. We must let these 'advocates' know that they are wrong.
Delinquents are in no way as much a threat to public safety as their adult counterparts, and more humane measures are needed to rehabilitate juveniles.
G. GEORGE WILSON (Rev Dr)
Springfield PO, St Elizabeth