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Gov't to remove prison option for problem kids

Published:Wednesday | August 14, 2013 | 12:00 AM

The Portia Simpson Miller Cabinet has approved legislative changes that could remove one of the most controversial provisions of the Child Care and Protection Act which allows a judge to incarcerate a child who is deemed to be "beyond control".

"This will result in judges no longer having the option of sentencing these children to correctional centres," the youth ministry said in a statement released yesterday.

The announcement came shortly after local human rights lobby Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) unleashed another tirade over the failings of the act and the Child Development Agency (CDA), the body charged with the responsibility of enforcing it.

The Child Care and Protection Act allows a judge to issue a correctional order committing a child to state custody for being beyond control, providing a parent is present and gives consent.

However, JFJ Executive Director Dr Carolyn Gomes, speaking during a press conference yesterday, charged that in many instances, this and other safeguards are not being followed.

"Children are being taken to court by policemen [and] by children officers and deemed uncontrollable and incarcerated in prison," Gomes claimed.

"Beyond that, we have children who are in need of care and protection and are given fit-person orders by the judges being taken to adult prisons. The system is not working, but the law is also an unjust and unfit law," she added.

But according to the youth ministry, Cabinet has also given approval for a review of these provisions.

IACHR measures

The debate on the provisions of the Childcare Act follows a move by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to adopt a number of precautionary measures against Jamaica.

The move by the IACHR came in response to complaints by JFJ about the treatment of children in the custody of the State.

The measures call for the Government to, among other things, provide the physical and mental care needed by wards of the State, investigate cases of sexual abuse, and take steps to transfer those being held at the Horizon Adult Remand and the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional centres.

The precautionary measures were adopted on July 31 and the IACHR has given the Jamaican Government until tomorrow to respond with an update on the steps that have been taken to comply with the directives.

Gomes said while there would be no sanctions if the Government does not comply, this would represent another international embarrassment for the country.

Several attempts to get a comment from Youth Minister Lisa Hanna were unsuccessful.