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Thursday 21 March 2019
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Court head: Stop jailing children

TROUBLED children before the courts are being sent to St Ann’s Hospital for two weeks to be mentally evaluated, a parliamentary committee heard yesterday (Friday) from very concerned court administrators.

“When a child needs to be assessed he is committed to St Ann’s and it takes two weeks,” said Wendy Lewis-Callender, deputy court executive administrator. “There is no provision for children to be separated from adults, and that poses a very serious problem.”

She said at one time the country had only one child psychiatrist to do such evaluations.

“So we really need to focus. If there’s a need for a long-term stay, there is no facility for children,” she said of St Ann’s. While for adult offenders, a mental assessment usually takes 18 months, during that time they remain incarcerated, registrar Nirala Bansee-Sookai said.

Lewis-Callender lamented a lack of community residences in which to place troubled youngsters facing court, and a lack of drug-treatment facilities for them. Normal children's residences are not equipped to handle high-risk children such as those who may be in gangs.

“We have to invest in establishing homes for children who are high risk.”

It is a daily reality for the courts at 7 pm to have high-risk youngsters for whom they cannot find a residence, Lewis-Callender said. She added that children need their own drug-treatment facilities.

Carlene Cross, Child Court administrator, said it is very hard to place a mentally-disturbed child in a residence occupied by normal children who were there only because they were orphans.

Court chief administrator Master Christie-Anne Morris-Alleyne expressed her sorrow at the plight of youngsters before the lawcourts, speaking to Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Finance and Legal Affairs, chaired by Sophia Chote, SC.

She said this society cannot continue its high rate of incarcerating people. While some adolescents have done stupid things, Morris-Alleyne implored that they not be cast out by society.

“No child reaches there on his own. It’s a combination of factors and circumstances. We as a country must do all we can to give that child a real opportunity to turn around.”

She said while ten-15 per cent of child offenders become life-long offenders, the other 85 per cent turn out well.

Morris-Alleyne shared insights from a recent project on these juveniles.

“The thing that struck me was the fact the children are so angry. Why is there all this anger? We need a national conversation on how we raise our children. We are failing our children.”

She said the court expects to have 1,500 juvenile cases each year and within the first three months of one year had crossed one-third of this sum.

“Strengthen our non-custodial options. We can’t be locking up our children.”

Saying a youngster's brain fully develops only by age 25, she was a very concerned at individuals before the lawcourts deemed to be adults, from age 18-25.

Asked about cannabis by member Clarence Rambharat, Morris-Alleyne gave her personal view: “Small amounts of cannabis, I don’t think we should be locking up people for.”

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