Young convicts need programme

I write in response to your article ‘Children locked up in harsh conditions’ dated Thursday, 16 August.

It is welcoming news that some attention is given to the most vulnerable young people in the Cayman Islands. However, I must hasten to indicate that the allocation of $1million to construct a youth secure faculty is not in itself adequate in attending to the problem of youth crime.

Building a youth prison should not be the most important consideration of the Government. A proper and effective Youth Justice System should be in place to identify, diagnose and rehabilitate youth offenders, but most importantly to divert them from prison as much as possible.

Eagle House Youth Centre might not be fit for that purpose. The new facility should be built not simply for accommodation, but instead rehabilitation. The housing of young offenders cannot and should not be the only consideration of dealing with young offenders. I believe that prison should only be used as the last resort.

A new Youth Justice Board needs to be in place comprising of suitable experienced and qualified practitioners, which oversees the Youth Justice System.

The emphasis would be to prevent offending and re-offending and to ensure that there are adequate facilities and effective and efficient treatment programmes suitable for rehabilitation. Areas such as accommodation and resettlement, alternatives to custody, prevention, health, education training and employment, diversity, research, restorative justice and monitoring and improving services should be ethos of a sensible Youth Justice System.

Similarly, there should be a Youth Offending Team comprising the police, Probation Service, social services, health, education, drugs and alcohol misuse and housing officers. The YOT is managed by a YOT manager who is responsible for coordinating the work of the Youth Justice services. The YOT incorporates representatives from a wide range of services, it can respond to the needs of young offenders in a comprehensive way.

The YOT identifies the needs of each young offender by assessing them with a national assessment. It identifies the specific problems that make the young person offend as well as measuring the risk they pose to others. This enables the YOT to identify suitable programmes to address the needs of the young person with the intention of preventing further offending. Dr. Rattray might be conversant with Youth Offending Teams and could recommend a similar structure.

Indeed, this could be a more proactive way of diverting young people from prison with a huge emphasis on prevention. The premise of this approach should be holistic. The intervention should target young people before they reach the courts. Custodial sentences should be limited to offenders convicted of serious offences where there is significant risk of further harm and those who are persistent re-offenders of community based sentences.

Dr. Rattray made mention in the article that a new centre with structured regime and fulltime education is need. Indeed, this in noteworthy.

However, these sentiments are not new as former administrators and ministers are in fact to be blamed for the poor state of the Juvenile System in the Cayman Islands as numerous recommendations were made in respect of developing a proper Youth Justice System, which included identifying youths at risk in the community and in schools where preparatory work could be done in order to divert them from the courts.

Other recommendations included the inappropriateness of Eagle House as a rehabilitation centre, due its proximity to an adult institution, design of the building and lack of effective intervention programs and qualified practitioners. The dedicated staff at Eagle House had to make good of absolutely nothing.

From my experience at Eagle House a significant amount of young people with a learning disabilities well known to social services and the social care system are sent to prison by the youth justice system without care or concern for their mental health.

Although vulnerable, there are few provisions for services specifically designed to meet their needs.

The youth justice in the Cayman Islands will have to invest in more preventive work, targeting children who might be at risk of offending before actually appearing before youth court; by improving alternatives to sentencing by creating custodial orders that will take into account the circumstances of offending and targeting the behaviour rather than the young person; transforming the way in which young people are sent to prison and decreasing the amount of young people sent to prison by using the restorative justice conferencing and behaviour modification programmes.

Young offenders institutions’ overcrowding and inappropriate facilities create many difficulties in observance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, and the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juvenile Deprived of their Liberty.

If the government decides to act, if the judicial, education, social care and health systems decide to play their role responsibly rather than ineffectively, then it can be done. If not it will be subject to growing international censure over its inaction, and growing suspicions that it has no interest in protecting the lives of its most vulnerable young people.

Marvin Simpson
Youth Justice Doctoral student in United Kingdom and was previously employed at Eagle House at a Teacher/Counsellor.

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