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EDITORIAL – Keeping our youth on track

marciadottin, [email protected]

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The most recent annual Open Session of the District A Juvenile Court must have been an eye opener in most respects for all those who attended or read newspaper reports of the proceedings.Magistrate Faith Marshall-Harris who is in charge of the juvenile court was the “presiding officer”, but this session was anything but a formal court hearing in which the accused and the prosecution put their respective cases. This session was much more than that because it was open to the relevant stakeholders interested in juvenile justice, and the presiding magistrate presented a report on a study of 274 cases extracted from case histories she had been collecting between February 2006 and July 2010. Representatives of the church, the Probation Office, school principals and guidance counselors, the national youth service and other interested persons connected with juvenile justice were there.Without more, this is a laudable initiative and goes beyond the usual bland reports summarising the number of cases lodged, adorned with the barest of information. It seems from all reports that the study, which was done in collaboration with Canadian research assistant Anastasia Bondarenko through UNICEF, is a pioneering one aimed at understanding the causes that gave rise to the appearances of juveniles before the court, with the ultimate aim of rehabilitating these young people. The report is very revealing. It pointed out that juveniles were more often “victims than perpetrators, and that very often they are the victims of circumstance, victims of physical. psychological and sexual abuse and of adults involving them in criminality abuse”.It also disclosed that “a lot of the young persons we see are really suffering in one way or another, and their being brought before the court is often a reaction to being victimised”.These are important findings, the validity of which are enhanced by the large numbers in the study over a prolonged period of four years, and such indications of cause and effect are of immense value to a judicial officer before whom a juvenile appears at a critical stage in that juvenile’s life, because inappropriate “punishment” can have a major impact on the youngster’s life.The juvenile court has therefore been able over time to develop an approach which is rehabilitative and restorative rather than punitive, and the learned magistrate has, as a matter of normal practice, involved the various social agencies and experts in seeking the best solution for the young offender.We are glad to hear that this approach has been working, because the report shows that only about 21 per cent of the offenders have had to be committed whereas the vast majority of young offenders have responded so well that involvement of the Barbados Youth Service in particular has produced what the report terms “a tremendous turnaround” in those youngsters sent there.This report should be given the widest publicity not least because of its authenticity. It is not the outcome of the usual theorising by “experts’ but a practical study getting to the root of the problem and dealing with it in a way that redounds to the benefit of the juvenile and to the general society, for a life redirected along the straight and narrow path is one which can be of economic utility to the community.This report is very good news. The rehabilitative work which has been done by the social agencies at the request of the Court shows that we can save deviant youth, but just as the magistrate is concerned, so too, must the society be concerned about that minority who have to be committed.Mrs Faith Marshall-Harris must be congratulated on her sterling work. The study shows that we can put young lives back on track, and that, where our young offenders are concerned, there is more than a little light at the end of the tunnel.