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Speech

The report of the Commission of Enquiry into the tragedy that occurred at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre on May 22, 2009 is being tabled in the House today.
The sole Commissioner, retired President of the Court of Appeal, Mr. Justice Paul Harrison, found negligence on the part of the State and dereliction of duty, administrative errors, unlawful conduct and indifferent and insensitive actions on the part of some public officials who were responsible for the operation of the Centre or who were involved in the events preceding, during and after the fire in which seven girls aged between 15 and 17 perished.
The report was considered at length by the Cabinet yesterday. It has also been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Acting Commissioner of Police and the Public Service Commission for such action as they consider appropriate in relation to those persons whose conduct has been called into question by the findings of the Commission.
Arising from these findings, the Acting Commissioner of Police has already ordered the interdiction of four members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Investigations into their conduct are being carried out.
Where I have the authority to do so, appropriate action will be taken.
While public officers must be held accountable for the discharge of their duties, the government must accept ultimate responsibility for the circumstances that led to the Armadale tragedy and for the inadequate facilities provided to care for children who are placed in juvenile correctional or remand facilities. Resource constraints do impose a heavy burden on public officers who work in these facilities but it cannot explain or excuse negligence or inertia.
There are three Juvenile Correctional Centres and one Juvenile Remand Centre with a total capacity of 311. Up to last Thursday, February 25th, these facilities accommodated 325 children, 286 of whom are the subject of correctional orders issued by the Courts and 39 who are being held on remand. However, an additional 124 children are being housed at other facilities which, although declared as juvenile institutions for purposes of the law, are not appropriate for the custody of children. These include:35 girls at Fort Augusta Women’s Correctional Centre (10 of whom are on remand)31 children at Horizon Remand Centre – 2 girls plus 29 boys (on remand)68 children (64 boys and 4 girls) being held at 13 Police lockups across the island.
These figures indicate that the capacity of both our juvenile correctional and remand centres is fully exhausted and the correctional centres are, in fact, overcrowded because of the need to accommodate additional children being held on remand.
The housing of children at adult correctional centres such as Fort Augusta and Horizon either on correctional orders or remand is inappropriate. The detention of children in Police lockups is unacceptable. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.
We must provide adequate accommodation for those children placed in the custody of the State by the Courts and those awaiting appearance before or determination by the Courts. The accommodation must be sufficient to allow for the appropriate placement of these children based on their peculiar circumstances and needs and for the carrying out of effective programmes to address their behavioural problems.
I wish to advise the House of the following measures to address these problems:
Work will commence within the next few weeks on the renovation and outfitting of the Montpelier Youth Camp in St. James which will provide accommodation for 250 children and will be designated a juvenile correctional centre for boys, i.e., boys in respect of whom correctional orders have been issued by the Courts.
The boys currently housed at the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre will be relocated to Montpelier when it is completed. Thereafter, the Rio Cobre Centre will be designated a juvenile correctional centre for girls.
The former youth camp at Cape Clear in St. Mary, now being used as the regional offices of the Social Development Commission, will be converted into a juvenile remand centre to house boys who are to be taken before the Court or are awaiting a decision of the Court. The boys being housed at the St. Andrew Remand Centre in Stony Hill will be transferred to Cape Clear and the Stony Hill facility will then be designated a juvenile remand centre for girls. The intention is to ensure that children on remand are housed in separate facilities from those who are the subject of correctional orders.
As soon as the Cape Clear facilities become operational, there will be no reason for children to be held at police stations longer than is necessary to arrange for them to be transported to the Cape Clear facility. Nor will any of these children have to be held at adult correctional institutions. Court room space will be provided at Cape Clear so that children housed there will not have to leave the premises for attendance at court.
The Hill Top Juvenile Correctional Centre Hill in St. Ann will be retained as a high security facility for boys. The Diamond Crest Correctional Centre in St. Elizabeth will be used for girls who have particular behavioural problems and require special attention.
The Jamaica Defence Force will be undertaking the works that must be carried out at both Montpelier and Cape Clear and I have mandated them to have these facilities ready as early as possible.
Arrangements are being made for the SDC’s regional offices to be relocated to the new Port Maria Civic Centre which is almost completed and I wish to express appreciation to Custos Bobby Pottinger and Mayor Richard Creary who are working together to facilitate this.
Juvenile correctional and remand centres currently fall under the Correctional Services. It is the view of the government that this is inappropriate. The Correctional Services are designed for treating with adult criminal offenders. The objective of their incarceration is both punishment and rehabilitation. We do not consider this to be the correct institutional or policy framework for treating with delinquent children who need to be reformed, cared for and mentored – not punished.
It is noteworthy that two Correctional Officers who gave evidence before the Commission testified that their training did not include modalities for dealing with juveniles. The Commissioner recommended that correctional officers at juvenile institutions should be trained in psychology, anger management, stress control and counselling.
The government has decided that juvenile correctional and remand facilities should be placed under the Child Development Agency which is better able to provide the type of support that these children require. The Attorney-General is to advise on the legal and/or legislation actions that are required to give effect to this.
The report of the Commission contains several findings and recommendations concerning the management of juvenile facilities, the care and treatment of wards including their physical, emotional and psychological needs and educational requirements. Every effort is being made to address these issues.
Immediate steps are being taken to ensure compliance with basic standards for safety, health and sanitation at all juvenile correctional and remand facilities. The programme for rehabilitation of children placed on correctional orders and for the care of these as well as those on remand is to be reviewed and modernized. This will include:Staffing requirements and the recruitment and training of all persons employed at these institutions.Provision of accommodation at Montpelier and Cape Clear, in the first instance, for a minimum level of staff to reside on the premises, and, thereafter, at all similar institutions.Development of an Admissions and Orientation policy for juvenile centres.Maintenance of a case management system for each ward.Design of a new rehabilitation programme to be monitored and evaluated on a regular basis.
In addition, a multi-sectoral team involving representatives of five Ministries and nine agencies has developed a draft National Action Plan for Child Justice which is to be submitted to Cabinet shortly. This includes proposals for:
A Child Diversion Programme to facilitate strategic intervention in respect of child offenders before they require law enforcement or court action i.e., pre-charge, non-criminal infractions.A Caution System in which child offenders are warned and referred, if necessary and with the consent of their parents or guardians, to appropriate programmes such as counselling, training or drug treatment.Provision for community service orders, curfew orders, mediation orders and rehabilitation orders.
The report of the Commission of Enquiry also makes recommendations for limiting the use of correctional orders and greater use of guardianship, fit-person and supervision orders. This, of course, is a matter for the Chief Justice to whom the recommendation has been referred.
The Public Sector Transformation Unit has been asked to assist in developing a new regime and structure for the management of juvenile correctional and remand facilities in consultation with the Child Development Agency, the Children’s Advocate and the Ministries responsible for security, education, health and youth.
The awful tragedy that occurred at Armadale should not have been allowed to happen. We must ensure that no such tragedy ever again occurs.
Some wards of our juvenile correctional institutions have turned out to be exceptionally good and successful adults. We must strive to ensure that they are not the exception but become the norm.