Justice Minister, Hon. Delroy Chuck, says Cabinet has approved the establishment of a National Oversight Committee for the Ministry’s Child Diversion Programme.
Child diversion relates to the implementation of alternative interventions to formal court proceedings, to assist children deemed to have broken laws.
Mr. Chuck advised that the Committee, for which approval was granted following a Cabinet submission on Monday (July 6), will be chaired by Permanent Secretary in the Justice Ministry, Sancia Bennett Templer.
Additionally, Mr. Chuck said approval was given for the establishment of 13 Parish Committees to oversee the programme’s operations at the local level, one of which will serve Kingston and St. Andrew.
The Minister said consequent on these, the Child Diversion Act, which was legislated in 2018, “is now fully in operation”.
He was speaking during the Ministry’s ‘Access Justice Live’ digital town hall meeting, on Wednesday (July 8), which focused on ‘Children and the Justice System’.
Mr. Chuck said the Act’s provisions, and by extension the overall programme, are intended to ensure that young offenders, aged 12 to 17, are not “unnecessarily penalised” in the formal justice system, “but that they are mentored and every opportunity is given [to them] to ensure that they go on the straight and narrow path”.
“The approach is that when our young people get into trouble by committing a crime or engage in wayward behaviour, the police, under the Child Diversion Act, have the opportunity to divert them away from the formal court system and take them to a Child Diversion Office where the Child Diversion Officer will use mentoring and various support [mechanisms] to try to work with that youngster,” he outlined.
The Minister pointed out that where the offence is deemed serious or it has been determined that it should be taken to the court, then a judge has the authority to refer the matter for child-diversion intervention.
“What we have done over the past year is to train [450 officers], who are available in all the parishes to assist these youngsters who get into trouble,” he added.
While acknowledging that there are young people who “frequently get into trouble” for minor and “very serious” crimes, the Minister emphasised that “it is important that we don’t treat them like adult offenders”.
Meanwhile, Programme Consultant, Ruth Carey, outlined some of the offences for which child diversion referrals can be made, particularly those by which the police are guided.
They include breaches of the Sexual Offences Act, specifically indecent assault and incest; the Larceny Act, inclusive of larceny from the dwelling place, and simple larceny; and the Offences Against the Person Act, specifically unlawful wounding.
Others include breaches of the Towns and Communities Act, Noise Abatement Act; and the National Solid Waste Management Act.
Mrs. Carey said while the police is limited to dealing with breaches of these pieces of legislation, “the court, where they deem appropriate [can make referrals] to the Child Diversion Programme… based on the facts of the cases”.
The programme is being implemented with the support of the European Union Delegation in Jamaica, and National Integrity Action (NIA).