1. Mr Speaker, I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Justice has been implementing the National Child Diversion Programme in furtherance of the Child Diversion Act (the Act), which was enacted in 2018 and came into effect in 2019.
2. Mr Speaker, “Child Diversion” is the process of implementing measures for dealing with children, alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law without resorting to formal judicial proceedings.
3. The broad goals of the National Child Diversion Programme, among others, are:
a. To reduce the number of children who are charged with offences and consequently as a result exposed to the formal criminal justice system;
b. To increase the use of diversionary programmes that are expected to rehabilitate children as a response to crime and wrongdoing;
c. To protect the rights of the child in keeping with international instruments and protocols to which Jamaica is a party; and
d. To reduce the number of children who are institutionalized in lockups and correctional centres due to minor criminal offences
4. In keeping with the Act, the following activities have already been undertaken to implement the Programme:
• Establishment of the Child Diversion Office (CDO) and appointment of public officers;
• Thirteen Child Diversion Committees – one for each parish (one committee for the parishes of Kingston and St Andrew);
• Establishment of a National Oversight Committee; and
• Establishment of a Mentorship Programme.
Additional activities implemented, which are necessary to support operationalization, include • National Education Campaign on the Child Diversion Act, and
• Discussions with NGOs and community-based organisations (CBOs) to introduce Child Diversion Programmes for children in conflict with the law.
CHILD DIVERSION OFFICE
5. Mr Speaker, the Child Diversion Office (CDO), ably led by Child Diversion Consultant, Ms Ruth Carey, is operational and has been doing a commendable job in laying the groundwork for the National Child Diversion Programme. Ms Carey is assisted by a Child Diversion Coordinator, Clinical Psychologist and fourteen (14) Child Diversion Officers assigned by parish.
6. The function of the Child Diversion Office (CDO) is primarily, in consultation with the National Oversight Committee and the Child Diversion Committees, to advise the Minister of Justice on matters relating to children in conflict with the law, to monitor the operation of child diversion in the justice system and the supervision of child diversion programmes. Where children are referred to the Child Diversion Committees, the CDO is required to develop, approve, administer and supervise child diversion programmes and other programmes for the prevention of child delinquency.
THE NATIONAL CHILD DIVERSION OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE (NOC)
7. The National Child Diversion Oversight Committee (NOC) was established to monitor and report to the Minister of Justice on the implementation of child diversion in Jamaica; review compliance with the provisions of the Act, and advise and make recommendations to the Minister on child diversion and treatment generally of children in conflict with the law. Mr Speaker, I am pleased to announce that the NOC was recently approved by Cabinet. It is chaired by Mrs Sancia Bennett Templer, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, and includes the Children’s Advocate, CEO of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), and representatives from the Department of Correctional Services, Jamaica Constabulary Force, Ministry of Health and Wellness, Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and the Planning Institute of Jamaica.
8. Mr Speaker, the National Oversight Committee deliberately includes stakeholders from these entities which are involved in the delivery of service to children, in order to foster linkages, policy coherence and action with their respective organizations.
CHILD DIVERSION COMMITTEES
9. Thirteen Child Diversion Committees (CDCs) (one for each parish with a single committee for the parishes of Kingston and St Andrew) were also recently approved by Cabinet. The role and functions of the Committee are primarily to advise the Child Diversion Office (CDO) on all matters relating to child diversion in the parish including individual child diversion programmes and to make recommendations to the CDO for the development, administration and supervision of diversion programmes for each child referred to the CDC. The CDCs also make recommendations to the Minister and the CDO for the development of policies for child intervention programmes, prevention of child delinquency and the rehabilitation and treatment of children in conflict with the law.
10. The membership of the CDCs include, among others, education officers, guidance counsellors, persons qualified in child psychology or a registered medical practitioner qualified in child psychiatry and officers of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA).
11. Mr Speaker, even before the appointment of the National Oversight Committee and the Child Diversion Committees, other activities were undertaken such as collaboration and agreement with several stakeholders who have a direct role in the implementation of the National Child Diversion Programme. Consequently, Ministries, Departments and Agencies have supported the activities under the Child Diversion Programme including the integration of child diversion in their current policies on children.
12. A Child Diversion Mentorship Programme was also developed, and over 400 mentors were approved and trained across the island to give support to the National Child Diversion Programme. All Mentors were properly vetted, including the completion of background checks so as to ensure that those to be given access to our children were confirmed as respectable, law-abiding citizens.
13. Mr Speaker, it is not too late for persons to volunteer to become mentors. The application form may be downloaded from the website of the Ministry of Justice.
14. The Child Diversion Office also embarked on a comprehensive public education campaign from June 2019 to March 2020 where over 1000 stakeholders island wide, including representatives of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the Department of Correctional Services and faith based and community based organizations, and Justices of the Peace, among others, were sensitised on the National Child Diversion Programme. This campaign has been stymied due to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) spread and impact on the island. However, face-to-face sensitization sessions are still ongoing with the necessary physical distancing protocols being observed while the Ministry is also putting arrangements in place to provide virtual training and sensitization sessions.
15. The Ministry of Justice, through its Child Diversion Officers, have received referrals from the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Courts for offences such as malicious destruction of property, sexual intercourse with person under 16 years and simple larceny. With the appointment of the National Oversight Committee and the thirteen (13) Child Diversion Committees, the Child Diversion Office will be better able to implement rehabilitative activities for children who engage in anti-social behaviour.
CHILDREN DEEMED TO BE “UNCONTROLLABLE”
16. Mr Speaker, there has been a continued conversation regarding children deemed as “uncontrollable” and the appropriate action to be taken in respect of them for some time. With the implementation of the Child Diversion Act, 2018, there is now a viable opportunity for appropriate treatment for these children.
17. Under Section 34 of the Act, in relation to a child brought before the Court as a child in need of care and protection under the Child Care and Protection Act or as a child offender or otherwise, the court may make an order under subsection (2) in respect of the child if satisfied that it is expedient to do so. Consequently, children deemed ‘uncontrollable’ can be referred to a Child Diversion Committee for participation in a diversion programme.
18. Although being “uncontrollable” is not a child diversion offence, a Police Officer through the Clerk of Court (Prosecutor) may recommend to the Judge that a child so classified, be allowed the opportunity for rehabilitation by way of a Child Diversion Referral Order.
19. Further, Mr Speaker, notwithstanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry and its partners, continue, with the necessary protocols in place, with its commitment to serve children who engage in anti-social behaviour. Note that whilst the Child Diversion Bill was being considered by the Parliament, the Ministry through the Restorative Justice process, commenced the efforts to bring support to children in conflict with the law by diverting them from the formal system of justice utilizing Restorative Justice. The Restorative Justice process continues as children are treated at the Restorative Justice Centres across the island. With the promulgation of the law on Child Diversion and establishment of Child Diversion facilities, treatment of children is broadened and strengthened. Mr Speaker, through the operationalization of the Child Diversion Act, the Ministry seeks to formalize and expand diversion in Jamaica as a means of halting the criminal path of child offenders while safeguarding the society. This is a necessary step, Mr Speaker, in the Ministry’s vision of a First Class Justice System.
Hon. Delroy Chuck, QC, MP
Minister of Justice