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JIS News

As of October, wards at the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre in St. Catherine will have even more prospects for a job and access to higher education beyond the institution’s walls.
The centre will be boosting its Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) programme, with two critical subjects – Mathematics and English Language added, increasing the programme’s offering to five.
Currently, eligible boys housed at the medium-security facility, located in Spanish Town, are able to sit CSEC subjects in Principles of Business, Principles of Accounts and Social Studies.
Superintendent of the facility, Barrington James, tells JIS News that the centre has identified tutors for the two new subjects to be offered. “We are looking at some persons from outside, who can assist us with some sessions with the boys, especially with Math,” he says.
These additional subjects will help boys who are desirous of continuing their education, as five CSEC passes is usually the minimum requirement for matriculating into most tertiary level institutions. Fifteen boys will be enrolled in the CSEC programme, to sit the examinations in 2010.
The CSEC programme at the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre began in October 2007 and 14 boys sat the examinations in 2008, with seven receiving passing grades. This year, 13 boys took the exams, with 11 receiving a passing grade.
Correctional Officer, Hugh Johnson, who has been delivering all the CSEC classes, says working with the boys is “challenging but worth it.”
“There were the days when they used to give a lot of trouble, did not show much interest at first and kind of discouraged you. But after I met with them and we spoke and I really got them to understand what their chances are and what it would mean to them, they decided they would conform and I decided that ‘hey I will stick with it’,” Mr. Johnson recalls.
The boys readily confess that they were disinterested in the classes at first and were determined not to co-operate. However, by the middle of the term their attitudes changed.
Their efforts and that of the superintendent were rewarded on August 20, when the results of this year’s CSEC exams were released. There were two distinctions, 10 credits and eight passes. The best performer received grade one in two subjects and a grade two in the other subject he sat.
“We all felt a rush of pleasure; we had wings, we could fly, we had achieved and we took the limits off,” the young man shares. He states that he felt just as proud as he imagined Usain Bolt did when he took gold in record time in his two races at the World Championships in Berlin, Germany.
Superintendent James tells JIS News that family support is a major motivating factor for the boys to do their best and to set high goals.
“These boys come here with various issues, conduct disorders; you have boys here who have not had visits of relatives. So, for us to try to teach them, and they have these problems, it’s difficult. So, what we try to do is to make contact with parents to see if they can come and visit them. If they cannot come, we allow them to speak on our telephones here, talk with them, and this helps a lot,” he informs.
He says many of the boys, who have done well at their CSEC exams, had strong family support and notes that several family members helped with the finances associated with getting them ready for the tests, including providing textbooks, while the correctional centre pays the exam fees.
The grandmother of one of the correctional centre’s top students this year says she is happy she did not give up on her grandson. “I know he was a bright boy and had potential and because of that, I didn’t give up on him,” she tells JIS News, while recalling the many challenges of dealing with her grandson.
“I have been through a lot on the street searching for [him] when he run away from his mother, and I can remember one of the times I was so sick going to search for him,” she says.
However, today she is a proud grandmother, who credits the work of the correctional centre for her grandson’s turnaround. “If a parent has a child here, I would encourage the parent, let the child stay because the child can come out victorious,” she says.
Her grandson is also very proud of himself and says he is happy to have had the support of his family. He tells JIS News that he wants to continue to make them proud by persisting with his studies. “I plan on getting some more subjects and moving on to college and doing business management,” he discloses.
One of his classmates said he and his family are also looking forward to his future outside the correctional institution. “They are planning to send me to college. I have to get some more subjects before I go, but yes, we’re planning for the future,” he says.
For this teenager, the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre was his saving grace. “Being here actually did help me a lot. If I was out there I don’t think I would achieve one [subject],” he shares, adding that the facility also taught him dignity and self-worth.
Superintendent James wants persons with negative stereotypes to get to know more about the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre and other such institutions, before condemning juveniles in custodial care.
“There are boys inside here who have potential and we are tapping the potential. There are boys we get here from secondary schools and we try to build on what they had, so the results were shown in the (examination) passes,” he points out.
He informs that the institution also offers vocational training in woodwork, tailoring, auto mechanics, welding and home economics. It also provides students with academic instruction at varying levels; remedial, intermediate and advanced. He says the candidates for the CSEC exam are usually drawn from the advanced group.
The Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre is a medium-security facility for boys 12 to 18 years old, who are removed by the court from their normal environment to a more controlled one. The facility currently houses 136 wards.
The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) describes juvenile correctional centres as “educational institutions providing security, rehabilitation and education to a special group of juveniles.”

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