EDITORIAL: Facing up to non-custodial alternatives
CARIBBEAN HUMAN rights and penal reform activists who have long been advocating non-custodial alternatives to the seeming passion by courts for sentencing juveniles to correctional facilities where, sadly, they are often abused, should find some encouragement in current developments in Jamaica.
Sparked initially, just over a week ago, by observations of Jamaica’s first-ever Children Rights Advocate Mary Clarke in relation to how juveniles continue to languish in lock-ups without any remedial actions, there has now come a call from the deputy representative and officer-in-charge of UNICEF programmes in Kingston, Nada Marasovic, for the government to be sued over violations of basic rights suffered by the incarcerated.
The UNICEF official’s urging that the government be taken to court for the rights violation of children in custody over conflicts with the law is based on the findings of a three-month study which had been commissioned by the now retiring Children Rights Advocate Mary Clarke.
The report on Children In Conflict With The Law In Jamaica highlights shocking conditions in juvenile facilities where, instead of concerted efforts at rehabilitation, there were many instances of neglect of neglect and abuse, including sexual offences, sale of illegal drugs and violence.
Ministries, departments and officials in Barbados and other CARICOM member states whose functions also include dealing with cases of children in conflict with the law may find it useful to pay some attention to how Jamaica has been challenged to revisit its approaches to determine what changes need to be made in their own domestic policies and legislation.
Regional human rights advocates, among them those who have worked with the London-based Penal Reform International, can readily recall case studies shared with governments within our Caribbean Community (CARICOM). They included proposals on why and how non-custodial alternatives could effectively be pursued in the best interest of juveniles and the society in general.
Since information-sharing is part of the policy on functional cooperation among CARICOM countries, it seems logical for governments and human rights groups/advocates in the community to seek to benefit from the report now available to Jamaica for consideration of changes to its correctional system, which has been associated with so much that’s wrong.
These governments may need to revisit the reports/studies that have been shared with them by regional and international human rights organizations and advocates, particularly those concerning the need to usher in a new era of non-custodial alternatives, with social reintegration programmes as a priority.