Sat | Sep 30, 2023

Juvenile inmates face education crisis

Published:Thursday | February 17, 2022 | 12:10 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter

One lawmaker has described as “a deep crisis” the lack of proper skills training and sufficient educational support to juveniles in correctional centres.

St Mary Central Member of Parliament Dr Morais Guy has warned that the absence of adequate rehabilitation to reintegrate these young people into society could exacerbate Jamaica’s crime problem.

He lamented that the Ministry of Education and Youth had failed to play a more active role in the monitoring of the educational development of juveniles in correctional facilities.

Guy said he found it strange that the interface between the ministry and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) regarding children in custody was not evident.

He said it was an indictment on the correctional services and the Ministry of National Security in not ensuring that the type of education that was being afforded to students in schools was also being offered to juveniles in state custody.

Chief technical director in the Ministry of National Security, Shauna Trowers, conceded that the “sort of oversight that the Ministry of Education needs to provide is not happening”.

She told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that the juveniles in the care of the DCS were not only vulnerable but “most volatile”. As such, Trowers said the juveniles must be engaged so that they can be reintegrated into society and not end up in the adult penal institutions “or, worst case, be killed”.

Committee Chairman Heroy Clarke argued that the Government should do all in its power to equip children in state custody with the necessary skills for their reintegration into society.

Other legislators, such as Tova Hamilton and Rhoda Crawford, expressed disappointment that the juveniles within the DCS were not benefiting from skills training and certification from the HEART/NSTA Trust, the national training agency.

At the four correctional facilities housing up to 200 juveniles who have been detained for crimes and uncontrollable behaviour, two full-time psychologists, two engaged on a sessional basis, and two sessional psychiatrists are available to provide a range of services.

A report from the DCS tabled Wednesday during a meeting of the Human Resources and Social Development Committee stated that they must provide counselling, prepare reports for the Children’s Courts, and attend to children who present with mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

“Some have attempted to harm themselves and others. Most are subject to some form of sexual, physical, or verbal abuse prior to admission,” the report stated.

The parliamentary committee was also dissatisfied to learn that, of the 48 teaching posts available in the DCS, 30 are vacant.

The committee was also told by Commissioner of Corrections Lieutenant Colonel Gary Rowe that, between 2018 and 2019, sixteen teachers had resigned from their posts.

Rowe told parliamentarians that it was difficult to recruit teachers owing to the disparity in salary and benefits between the DCS and public schools.

He said that, in early 2020, the DCS had meetings with the education minister to try to address those anomalies, but those talks had been disrupted by the onset of COVID-19.

Rowe said that juveniles were engaged in areas of counselling and life skills training. He said the Ministry of Health also provides programmes on substance abuse and gender violence.