Sun | Jan 19, 2020

State care is prison, says former ‘uncontrollable’ ward

Published:Tuesday | December 10, 2019 | 12:29 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Moya Blackwood speaks at a public forum on incarcerated children at Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston yesterday. She warned that gaps in state care could result in more harm than protection for children.
Moya Blackwood speaks at a public forum on incarcerated children at Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston yesterday. She warned that gaps in state care could result in more harm than protection for children.

Twenty-six-year-old Moya Blackwood, who has been through the juvenile correctional system, yesterday appealed to the nation’s parents to refrain from using verbal violence against children, as they run the risk of creating menaces to society.

Speaking at a Jamaicans for Justice forum on incarcerated children, Blackwood shared her personal experience publicly for the first time, painting a picture of how the State and parents are failing the youth.

“I am a survivor from Armadale,” she said, referring to the May 2009 fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre, which claimed the lives of seven girls and injured 13.

“I wasn’t really uncontrollable, but someone who loved to fight. I fought in front of a police station and was locked up,” Blackwood told the forum. “I consider state care as a prison. Children labelled uncontrollable should not be sent to prison, because it breaks you.”

Blackwood said that her frequent fights were rooted in her mother’s constant verbal attacks.

“My advice to parents is that they should not use words to children that rip them apart. Verbal abuse is no joke! The children will start hurting people or maybe themselves.

“My mother used to say she was tired of me and said, ‘Mi nuh know why mi neva dash you weh,’ and ‘Mi hate you.’ She used words to break me and that caused me to hurt people, even family,” she shared.

State care made kids worse

While in state care, Blackwood met many children who ran away from home because of perceived unfair treatment. She said that sending children to prison, or into state care, most often than not made human beings worse.

“Such tactics do not always work. Prison should not even be the last resort,” she said.

JFJ Executive Director Rodje Malcolm questioned the prolonged lack of action to amend sections the Child Care and Protection Act since 2013 to prevent children being locked up at the will of a judge, a subject raised in the December 8 edition of The Sunday Gleaner.

“Section 24 of the act provides no parameters for determining [when] a child is beyond parental control or for sentencing. Even scarier is that there seems to be no limitation on how long a child can be sentenced to prison for uncontrollable behaviour. One judge may sentence you to three years at a correctional facility for staying out late. One may send a child to a children’s home for a year or two months. It seems widely varying and, ultimately, hurts the children the most,” said Malcolm.

He said that the Child Diversion Act, which allows for alternatives to incarceration for children in conflict with the law, only applies to children who commit crimes and does not include those deemed uncontrollable.

“The theme here is that there are greater protections for persons who commit crimes than children who don’t. JFJ wants an urgent repeal of the section of the [Child Care and Protection] Act that allows the court to imprison a child who has committed no crime, simply because a parent can’t care for them,” Malcolm said. “ We simply ask that [the] Government keep its promise.”

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com