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Keep children out

kingston — A government group says it intends to push for a change to the law that gives judges power to commit children with behavioural problems to correctional centres.

“The recommendation is that the state should end the institutionalisation of children in correctional facilities for so-called “uncontrollable behaviour” and put the systems and facilities in place for therapeutic treatment of the underlying causes,” Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna told journalists yesterday during a press conference at Jamaica House in St. Andrew attended by National Security Minister Peter Bunting and Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding.

“It is our intention to place this recommendation before Cabinet as soon as workable alternatives, including sufficient psychological and psychiatric support, physical facilities and suitably trained staff, are in place,” she said.

Last Monday, Cabinet considered and approved several recommendations it received in a Joint Cabinet Submission from the ministers of youth and culture, national security, justice, and education. The submission was the work of the Inter-Ministerial Working Group on Children in Detention, which comprised representatives from several ministries and agencies.

Yesterday, Hanna said the designation of children as “uncontrollable” had been wreaking havoc in the justice system.

“One of the problems that we face is that many parents now take their children to police stations and other agencies for uncontrollable behaviour and many of them claim they are no longer able to control them and when the police take them in custody and they are brought before the court, the court will issue a corrections order with the consent of the parent,” she explained.

“What we are seeing now is that the majority of the children who are there, are there for uncontrollable behaviour – not murder, not drugs, not shooting, not robbery, but because they have been deemed uncontrollable,” the minister said, adding that these children “really deserve to be treated as victims rather than perpetrators”.

“Many of them come in with mental health issues and have been sexually abused and acted out, and ended up in prison and they really should not be there. So my ministry… will be submitting another set of initiatives to Cabinet that will look at how we amend the legislation so that uncontrollable children do not end up incarcerated. That is a major challenge we are having and children get lost in the system,” she noted further.

Bunting said there was some amount of error in the placement of those experiencing psychological challenges.

“One of the things we should point out is that often in the correctional system, both adult and juvenile, the courts send people to us that ideally should be dealt with in the mental health system, and really, when they get to the correctional system it’s an inappropriate facility,” Bunting said.

Senator Golding said the current approach is “unacceptable”. (Observer)

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