EDITORIAL: Laws governing juvenile offenders disturbing
The recent media launch on the upcoming National Conference on Juvenile Justice should open the eyes of Barbadians to some serious matters concerning minors and the justice system.
To hear from Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite that the Juvenile Offenders Act and the Reformatory Industrial School Act are almost 100 years old and that these pieces of legislation are outdated and in need of reform, but still govern the treatment of juveniles who may have offended our laws, is profoundly disturbing.
Even the punishments prescribed by the legislation of whipping boys and placing them on ships speaks to an earlier insensitive age when modern concepts and understandings of enlightened rehabilitation of offenders were not yet recognised, far less practised.
While welcoming the conference which is slated for April 21-23, we are in total and unqualified agreement with the attorney general that jail should be the last resort for minors who run afoul of the legal system.
We find it outrageous and reprehensible, too, that the law binds magistrates to sentence a young offender to minimum terms of confinement at the Government Industrial School.
The attorney general himself describes it as “a bit disgraceful that you can have an adult charged with wounding and be sentenced to 18 months and that you can have a young boy or girl who is having difficulty at home and is charged for wandering and is placed at the GIS for three years”.
This matter requires speedy action and one wonders why these draconian inflictions from our colonial past have not been removed from our laws. The urgency of this issue is underlined by another statement coming out of the same media launch. The principal of the Government Industrial School is reported to have said that we are too quick to judge children when they run away from home, since in most instances they are running from something and not to something.
In his position he must have enough knowledge on which to ground his statement and once we accept his word, we are then faced with a situation that a juvenile risks a loss of freedom by seeking to escape abuse in the home. He calls this circumstance Barbados’ dirty little secret.
Children have been described as our future and as our most precious resource. However we may describe them, parents brought them into this world, and if bad parenting or bad situations in homes conduce to their strange behaviour at times, they are entitled to enlightened approaches to their problems.
Outdated attitudes reflected in laws that mandate minimum punishments for something as benign as wandering should be repealed as a matter of the utmost urgency, and while we support the learned attorney general’s views, any mandatory minimum sentence of confinement for offences by juveniles ought to offend every nerve in our legal and political institutions which protect the public interest.