The Child Diversion Programme Offices and Committees of the Ministry of Justice are now fully operational in all 14 parishes.
The Programme seeks to divert children who come in conflict with the law away from the formal criminal justice system.
This is one of the main objectives of the Programme and is in line with the Programme’s obligations under the conventions and rights of the child to reduce the number of children institutionalised.
Child Diversion Consultant, Ruth Carey, told JIS News that since March, the Programme has been operating successfully.
“We have all our offices up and running and all our parish committees are now meeting and reviewing cases as they relate to children referred to Child Diversion and signing off and approving treatment programmes,” Ms. Carey said.
Child Diversion Parish Committees range from seven to 11 persons and host a variety of professionals, including a Minister of Religion, Justice of the Peace, Children’s Officer from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), an Education Officer, Guidance Counsellor and Medical Practitioner with specialisation in child psychology.
The committee may also have persons with qualifications in either criminal justice, substance abuse or any area that can treat with conflict with the law.
Since the start of the Programme, 107 children have been referred, with 91 of the cases being males and 16 females.
Referrals are done through the Courts and by the Police.
Meanwhile, despite the impact of COVID-19, the Programme has seen a marked increase in cases being referred.
“When you look across the period between March and August, we noticed a trend. When all of our offices were operational, we received 22 referrals to the Programme. When COVID-19 hit Jamaica and our first COVID patient was announced [in March], what we saw was a drastic reduction in referrals; we only saw one referral in April and 12 referrals in May. However, we did see, to some extent, an increase during the summer. We had 25 referrals to the Programme in June and 41 in July,” Ms. Carey noted.
She described the uptick in referrals as “excellent news”, as one of the objectives of child diversion is to reduce the number of children institutionalised.
“If we are receiving referrals, that is an indication of two things. We could say that less children are being institutionalised. At least we know 107 children have not been institutionalised as a result of child diversion and two, they also have not been exposed to the criminal justice system,” Ms. Carey said.
“At least 60 per cent of that number have not been exposed to the criminal justice system, because almost 60 per cent have been referred to us by the police. That means prior to charge, we have received these referrals, which means that children have had the opportunity not to get close to the formal justice system as a consequence of the Child Diversion Programme,” she added.
Ms. Carey credited the rise in referrals to efforts made to sensitise persons on child diversion and the Child Diversion Legislation with referral-based partners, the police officers and court professionals.