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Commentary: Locked away from learning: Education in juvenile facilities is failing
Published on May 15, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Rodje Malcolm

Children locked away in juvenile institutions receive woefully inadequate education from the Government. They receive sparse instruction on a limited number of subjects in toxic learning environments. This is a symptom of a dangerously flawed paradigm of juvenile justice – one that focuses on punishment and containment rather than rehabilitation and empowerment. The status quo will never be a solution to this problem. Comprehensive reforms are needed to reduce recidivism and achieve true juvenile justice.

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Rodje Malcolm is a human rights advocate and a Director at Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), specializing in child rights and juvenile justice issues. These views are strictly his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ)
In March, 2013, investigations by the Office of the Children’s Advocate into conditions at juvenile institutions revealed that “On average the juveniles get taught for two (2) hours per day.” They presented this and other disturbing findings to Parliament. In the past few days, the National Educational Inspectorate (NEI) released a damning report that echoed what many already knew: the remand and correctional facilities operated by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) have failed to provide sufficient education to the children in their care.

The report revealed that the four DCS juvenile institutions under investigation delivered “unsatisfactory” education to the wards. Institutions like the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre outright failed in all six focus areas. All four facilities failed in terms of curriculum. All four failed in teacher support. All four failed in ward development. And all four failed when graded on overall effectiveness.

The patent disregard for the rights of children in juvenile institutions is the result of an uncoordinated vision for juvenile justice that does nothing to seriously safeguard the rights of children or adhere to Jamaica’s national and international obligations.

Currently, the fundamental rights of children in juvenile institutions are not affirmatively expressed in legislation. Only vague references are made in the Corrections Act (1985) and the Child Care and Protection Act (2004). Yet, the government has failed to meet even this low bar.

With regard to education, the Corrections Act states: “The managers of a juvenile correctional centre are under an obligation to provide for the clothing, maintenance, upbringing and education of the persons under their care…”

The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules) state: “While in custody, juveniles shall receive care, protection and all necessary individual assistance -- social, educational, vocational, psychological, medical and physical -- that they may require in view of their age, sex and personality.” These have not been meaningfully adhered to. Beyond education, the shocking violations range from physical abuse, incarceration with adults, and prolonged lockdown.

Many institutions lack coherent educational plans. Records are generally not transferred to the correctional facilities from schools, and not all teachers are certified – many are correctional officers. Education in these facilities should be administered by the Ministry of Education, not the Ministry of National Security.

In fact, the government’s 2011 report, New Regime for Juveniles in Remand and Correctional Facilities in Jamaica admitted that: “the Ministry of Education has primary responsibility to ensure the uninterrupted provision of educational services.” Yet, the teachers, curriculum, and educational standards are controlled by the Department of Correctional Services. The DCS lacks the capacity, expertise, and policy-directive to deliver quality instruction.

This sub-par “prison education” system is unable to attract qualified teachers, promotes low standards, lacks real professional development or oversight mechanisms, offers no incentives for true investment, and employs the worst institutional design to what is arguably the most vulnerable group.

Despite formally recognizing this in 2011, the GOJ has yet to implement any meaningful reform in this regard. The lethargic response of Government ignores the special needs of this at-risk population, and stymies rehabilitation efforts.

The NEI report will add to the mountain of recommendations, commissions, and studies that has unearthed the depth of Jamaica’s neglectful and damaging practices. The Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna, in her last sectoral presentation promised that Jamaica would be in compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Beijing Rules by the end of 2014.

Minister Peter Bunting, who is responsible for these facilities, has repeatedly emphasized his commitment to child rights. This disappointing revelation shatters any confidence in their trumpeted proposals and confirms suspicions that officials are more interested in political grandstanding than meaningful action.

As a matter of urgency, the Government needs to:

1. Transfer control of the education of juveniles to the Ministry of Education;

2. Increase support and incentives for teachers who instruct juveniles with respect to professional development and financial compensation;

3. Review the Corrections Act to express the rights of juveniles and provide a strong regulatory framework for education and rehabilitation, including sanctions for non-compliant institutions;

4. Expedite the review of the Child Care and Protection Act to strengthen the legal framework for child rights;

5. Complete the long-awaited Child Diversion Policy that seeks to divert children away from the formal justice system to alternative forms of rehabilitation.
 
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