Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
As the Government prepares to pump millions of dollars into retrofitting police stations to house juveniles who come in contact with the law, the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) has issued a reminder that the minors should be held in these facilities for a maximum of 48 hours.
In addition, the children must be kept away from adults while at the police lock-ups.
With pressure mounting for the Government to back down or clarify troubling elements of its plan to retrofit police stations, UNICEF officials in Jamaica have given a qualified approval.
"It is important that the police stations be retrofitted because it is almost impossible not to have children in a police lock-up at anytime at all, but they shouldn't be there for longer than 48 hours and while they are there they should not have any contact with adults," said Janet Cupidon Quallo, child protection specialist at UNICEF.
"The extent of the renovations would seem to suggest that they are expecting them to be there for longer than 48 hours but under the law they are not supposed to be there.
"Even right now under the CCPA (Child Care and Protection Act) they are not supposed to be there for longer than 48 hours, so I really don't quite understand a police station being expanded to accommodate 48 or 45 children at one time. A police station is not a substitute," added Cupidon Quallo.
She argued that the Government has to honour the spirit and tenets of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the CCPA.
Late last month, Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna, announced that some $75 million has been set aside to retrofit a number of police stations across the country to house juveniles once they are taken into custody.
But Robert Fuderich, UNICEF representative in Jamaica, told The Sunday Gleaner that they were never consulted about the plan which was the brainchild of an all-government working group.
Quallo reiterated that keeping the juveniles in the police lock-ups for more that two days was non-negotiable.
"We have to go with what the CCPA says which is consistent with the CRC that says the shortest amount of time possible and separation from adults," she said.
Meanwhile, the Government has said that the $75 million, which has been earmarked so far will go towards retrofitting five out of 14 police stations.
The money is expected to come through the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP).
The move is part of a list of recommendations put forward by the Inter-ministerial Working Group on Children in Detention that was recently approved by Cabinet.
At the time of the announcement, Hanna said the working group was still awaiting news from the police and the JEEP Secretariat on how much it would cost to cover the remaining nine police stations.
During that press conference, Senator Mark Golding, minister of justice, said that the retrofitting of the police stations will ensure that when children are taken into custody by the police they would not be held with adults.
"This particular aspect of what is being discussed is really focusing on the very entry into the system which is a very short period of time but is very important," said Golding.