Finding new solutions to deal with juvenile offenders

Participants of a recent workshop in Basseterre have embraced the idea that a more holistic strategy is required and this should incorporate the judicial system, the education system, social services and all other relevant stakeholders.

St. Kitts and Nevis is amongst OECS nations that are also considering a new focus on three main areas for an agreed Juvenile Justice Reform Project, namely – legal and policy work, capacity building of persons working within the Juvenile Justice Sector, modernization of diversion and detention policies and practices and public awareness.

These were some of the finding that emerged from a two day workshop involving persons working in the Juvenile Justice Sector, hosted by the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), on 21st & 22nd July, 2014.

Child Protection Officer at the Probation and Child Protection Services, Naren Maynard, affirmed that the Juvenile Justice training demonstrated the interconnectivity of all the sectors that work with the best interests of children in mind. We need to work on our different issues in order to make everything better for the juveniles, said the officer.

The workshop was facilitated by Hazel Thompson-Ahye, Legal Consultant of the (OECS) Juvenile Justice Reform Project. She explained that the OECS member states, including St. Kitts and Nevis had ratified the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which outlined the obligation to implement a comprehensive Juvenile Justice System. 

She noted that much had not been done by many countries since ratification, which caused the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which was has been charged with implementation, to release a statement called Children’s Rights and Juvenile Justice.  She said this outlined to countries exactly what had to be done in order to implement the comprehensive Juvenile Justice System.

As such, the two-day training explained the general principles of the CRC and is a guide to ensure that everything is done in the best interests of the child.  Additionally participants were guided through sections of CRC which are specific to juvenile justice, as well as the UN guidelines for the prevention of juvenile delinquency.

 “So prevention is key, you can’t have a Juvenile Justice Policy and not talk about prevention,” Mrs. Ahye stressed. “Many times we make the mistake of looking at it at the end – what do we do with children who have offended?  What is more important is looking at children before they offend – children who are at risk.  And that’s why the child who is abused and neglected will come into the criminal justice system – research has shown.  We try to work with that child.

“Then we look at the Beijing Rules.  That is the UN standard minimum rules for administration of juvenile justice.  This precedes the CRC, it comes before and so you find a lot of the principles in the Beijing Rules are in fact encapsulated within the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

Mrs. Thompson-Ahye emphasized that another key aspect that was discussed was the importance of assessing children who committed illegal acts.  She revealed that in quite a few cases the youth had a mental illness.

Similarly, Lyndel Archibald, Coordinator of the OECS Juvenile Justice Reform Project expressed the importance of assessment, so much so that her organization was arranging an upcoming assessment training specific to counselors of detention facilities.  She emphasized an assessment can determine the most appropriate treatment of the child.

“Most times when a child is picked up, arrested – whatever the reason, whatever they have done, they’re just taken and thrown into a facility,” Ms. Archibald noted.  “The proper assessments are not done to find out why they did what they did.  Are they mentally ill?  Do they have any other challenges?  And they’re sometimes given treatment that may not work for them.  So we certainly have to build capacity in many ways.”

 

 

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