Wed | Mar 22, 2023

ASSESSING ARMADALE - Recommendations from commission of enquiry

Published:Tuesday | March 2, 2010 | 12:00 AM
'Lockdown' as a form of punishment is inherently unjust - being the collective punishment of everyone for the errors of a few, the proverbial 'good suffering for the bad'. It must be discontinued. - Armadale Report

'Lockdown' as a form of punishment is inherently unjust - being the collective punishment of everyone for the errors of a few, the proverbial 'good suffering for the bad'. It must be discontinued. - Armadale Report

THE GLEANER has obtained a copy of the report of a commission of enquiry into the fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre that led to the deaths of seven female wards. The report contained 16 observations and recommendations, the first six were published last Wednesday and numbers 7-10 appeared yesterday.

A board of visiting justices exists for the purpose of the adult correctional institutions, under the Correctional Institution (Adult Correctional Centre) Rules, 1991, in accordance with section 74 (1) of the Correction Act. The said regulations provide a comprehensive set of rules governing the operations and functions of the adult correctional centres. Except for section 47 to 57, (Part V) of the Corrections Act providing, principally, for the powers of the minister in respect of the juvenile correctional centres, I was unable to find any corresponding regulations in relation to the operations and functions of the juvenile correctional centres.

Regulations should be formulated and brought into force by the minister, as authorised by section 81(1) of the Corrections Act, to govern the operation and functions of the juvenile correctional centres. The authorities should consider, also, reducing into the domestic law of Jamaica, the provisions of the United Nations' Beijing Rules, and the 1990 Rules for the protection of juveniles deprived of their liberty. It is a simple exercise.

A board of visiting justices should also be appointed specifically for the juvenile correctional centres in order to perform statutory functions similar to those performed in respect of the adult correctional centres, for the benefit and welfare of all juveniles. The emphasis should be on regular visits and review of facilities and children's views.

The living conditions of the girls in the office dormitory for over one year culminating with the events of the night of 22nd May 2009 must have had a major traumatic effect on all the survivors.

The girls, the majority of whom are housed now at Diamond Crest, should each be psychologically evaluated and each case examined with a view to detect any consequential damage. The period of detention of each child should be proportionally shortened, if so advised.

Children's Advocate

The Children's Advocate, Mrs Mary Clarke, occupying this newly-created office since 2006 has demonstrated a mature grasp of the responsibilities of that office as it relates to the relevant institution and persons concerned with the welfare and benefit of children islandwide. Her office is, however, somewhat handicapped by insufficient staff and resources. Her meetings with ministers of Government, talks at institutions such as schools, investigations and annual reports to Parliament, have not seemed to influence the problems with children significantly.

The staff of the Office of the Children's Advocate should be increased, particularly, the investigating officers, with adequate travelling facilities. Regular visits to the juvenile institutions, routine examination of the facilities and interaction with the juveniles should be effected. This would complement the Board of Visiting Justices.

Her mandate of "protecting and enforcing the rights of children ..." under section 4 of the CC&P Act, would be more effective if she were given enforcement powers by way of judicial review in respect of government entities, which need to be compelled or prohibited in respect of breaches of their duties to children. She has the proper approach - give her the tools!

The police station diary is not a public document, although official entries are made therein. The treatment of that document by some officers at the Alexandria police station was in breach of settled rules in the Jamaica Constabulary Force and clearly wrong, by the omissions and false entries.

The Commissioner of Police should be requested to notify all sub-officers and police officers generally, of the significance of proper and accurate entries and the importance of supervising its uses and its safe custody.

The outstanding reports from the police officers, which were requested by Sergeant Heath must now be submitted. The police officers' misconduct concerning the events of 22nd May 2009 at the police station should be enquired into and appropriately dealt with, at least departmentally.

The Senior Administrators of the Department of Correctional Services are largely to blame for the tragedy at Armadale. The "apparent" lack of knowledge of Mrs Spence-Jarrett, Mr Hesson and Mrs Johnson of the accommodation, is less that believable and displays an inexcusable breach of duty. How can Mrs Johnson explain her visits to Armadale on 21st April 2009 when she "did not go into the dormitory ... went to the doorway" and on 7th May 2009 when she "did not go into the dormitory (she) stand at the entrance?"

There should be a review of the senior posts of the department - some may well be superfluous and unnecessary.

Overcrowding at Armadale was a major problem. The maximum permissible population was 45 girls. The actual occupancy, at times, was 70 girls. Serious consideration should be given to restrict the population to the permitted maximum. In that regard, the Commissioner of Corrections, must advise herself and be aware, at all times, whenever the maximum occupancy of a juvenile institution is attained. The Children's Court should be so advised, and no further correctional orders should be made to receive a child into the institution, until a vacancy exists. Legislation is required to implement this. It will require close monitoring of all such institutions islandwide and strict enforcement. Note, for example, by analogy, under the Criminal Justice (Reform) Act, section 10, a "court shall not make a community service order" unless, inter alia, arrangements can be made, in a particular area, for performing work and for its proper supervision of a convicted offender.

A hardening of hearts

The debacle of Armadale created by some of those persons most intimately concerned with it, displayed "a hardening of their hearts and a coarsening of their consciences." Disadvantaged children in an institution, primarily due at times to errant parents, give us the opportunity, with compassion, understanding, love, sincerity and genuine humility to rescue and help this segment of our youth in the society. Most of us as parents, have experienced the "rebellion" of our teenage children but our response is not to abandon them to institution - life, but with controlled caring to recognise it probably, as an assertion of their emerging individuality. One solution to our problems in Jamaica, is to commence to build a conscience - the differentiation between good and bad, right and wrong - in our children - from the early infant stage. Our children, from early infancy are the prime nucleus for change to a more mature, caring, humane and just society, based on good morals. Some persons concerned with Armadale failed to grasp the opportunity. Undoubtedly, financial resources were at times unavailable to the Department of Correctional Services. That should not be deterrent to humane treatment. Importantly, "Armadale" must never again occur.