Mon | Jul 4, 2022

Jaevion Nelson | Juvenile justice needs urgent attention and improvement

Published:Thursday | June 23, 2022 | 12:06 AM
Jaevion Nelson
Jaevion Nelson

We are failing our children, and nothing seems to prod a sense of deep concern and urgency among very many of us. Yes, we talk about a myriad of issues, sometimes, but quite often, we quickly move on to the next hot topic. Seldom do we dedicate...

We are failing our children, and nothing seems to prod a sense of deep concern and urgency among very many of us. Yes, we talk about a myriad of issues, sometimes, but quite often, we quickly move on to the next hot topic. Seldom do we dedicate time to thoroughly discuss the plethora of challenges bombarding children and youth. When we do, they tend to be about the majority, and those affected are rarely involved in these conversations.

In the last couple of months, for example, there has been a lot of attention on the vast number of students who were not turning up for classes since the resumption of face-to-face learning. The antisocial behaviour being displayed by our students has also been the subject of many news stories. We talk about the fights over guard rings and move on. We talk a bit about use of drugs, like ‘molly’, and move on. Last week, the incident involving a teacher and student at one school in Kingston and St Andrew dominated the airwaves. There is hardly anything about it this week.

It is uncanny that despite our concerns and fears about crime and violence, and young people’s involvement, so little attention has been placed on children in the care of the State.

In February, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), which is, among other things, responsible for rehabilitating child offenders, revealed to Parliament that it is ‘constrained in providing effective rehabilitation and reintegration programmes’ such as psychosocial interventions, vocational training, teaching, life skills training, and reintegration. They offered seven reasons why this is so, and they are (taken verbatim from the Juvenile Services Report):

1. The use of aged, dilapidated buildings that were not purpose-build.

2. Lack of a structured education system to deliver the standard education programmes for the age cohort.

3. Limited resources challenges faced by the department in obtaining HEART Trust/NSTA certification for vocational/skills programmes

4. The absence of an established psychosocial unit or team to effectively address the growing need for psychological intervention among the diminishing but psychologically scarred population of children.

5. Difficulty reintegrating children into their homes/communities and into the public school system upon the expiration of orders.

6. The use of outdated and insufficient ICT devices and equipment, and the general lack of network connectivity throughout the system.

7. The volatile area in which the Metcalfe Street facility is located.

According to Jamaicans for Justice, in a release, “While there has been some improvement over the years … enough has not been done; and … successive governments have failed and continue to fail our children.”

I was struck by the revelation, in a news report, which focused largely on the availability of teachers. The report highlights that there is a high rate of attrition, with 16 teachers resigning between 2018 and 2019. Currently, only18 of the 48 teaching posts available are filled because recruitment is a challenge “due to disparity in salary and benefits between the DCS and public schools”. I’d like to think that this is a key component of the rehabilitation programme that should be offered to our children. Why are we seemingly so inept at getting this right? Are we not concerned about the implications in this regard?

What will it take to jolt us into action to do better, to make it happen for our children? We cannot continue to pussyfoot with the rights and welfare of our most vulnerable and marginalised children and expect that everything will be alright. I am happy to see that the minister of education and youth has committed to addressing the issue where teachers are concerned. We need new correctional centres for children that are designed for the purpose of effective rehabilitation, and for a specific psychosocial unit to be established.

Kelie Darbouze, out of the University of Maryland, reminds us that “effective rehabilitation is important because it helps to eliminate the vicious cycle of recidivism, and proper rehabilitation can lead to juvenile delinquent population not resorting to adult criminal activity”.

Now is not the time to be negligent. We cannot wait until the situation gets worse.

Jaevion Nelson is a human-rights, economic and social justice and inclusive development advocate. Send feedback to m and m, or follow him on Twitter @jaevionn.