UNICEF’S Deputy Executive Director Visits Children in Jamaican Prison
KINGSTON, 26 February, 2013 – On her first visit to Jamaica, UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director, Ms. Geeta Rao Gupta, heard first-hand from children detained at the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre, the island’s only prison for women.
UNICEF Jamaica, along with other child-focused agencies, has been advocating for the removal of the children from the prison. Many of the girls are incarcerated for non-criminal charges of “uncontrollable” behaviour. In keeping with international law, they should not be detained with adults.
Recent outcry has prompted government action to address the situation. The Minister of Youth and Culture has announced a raft of measures that will be taken, including the establishment of a correctional facility for female juveniles.
Currently, over forty-five children are waiting. They live in prison dorms at Fort Augusta. Ms. Gupta, who is in Jamaica to learn more about issues facing children in the Caribbean and Latin American region, met with a group of the young inmates yesterday afternoon.
The girls recounted their difficult life experiences and shared insights on life in prison with Ms. Gupta. “I want to go home,” says one of the girls who landed in Fort Augusta after running away from a children’s home. All the girls echo her sentiment.
One 17-year-old talks with Ms. Gupta while cradling her young child. She came into Fort Augusta on a charge of uncontrollable behaviour while pregnant. Infants are allowed in the prison until they are six months old. The teen mom is anxious for both of them to leave.
Some of the girls have embraced academic classes offered at the prison as part of a rehabilitative programme. Others question the quality of the lessons and have given up, spending their days counting down to release.
UNICEF Jamaica is working with partners to reduce the number of children who are incarcerated by promoting non-custodial measures. In 2013, with financial support from UNICEF and the European Union, the Ministry of Justice will pilot a National Child Diversion Programme to reduce the juvenile population of state-supported institutions.
The EU-supported initiative will also include the establishment of a Mobile Mental Health Clinic by the Child Development Agency and the Ministry of Health. Efforts will focus on increasing non-custodial approaches to rehabilitation, with an emphasis on improving mental health, empowerment and re-integration.