A local magistrate is recommending the establishment of a special court for children charged with illegal drugs offences.
Magistrate Graveney Bannister, who is chairman of the Drug Treatment Court for adults, told a panel discussion on drugs at the Cave Hill Wesleyan Holiness Church, Cave Hill Main Road, St Michael last night that such a court would make it possible for juveniles to bypass incarceration at the Government Industrial School (GIS) for young offenders.
“The time may have arrived for consideration to be given to a juvenile drug court. The reason being is that there are several youngsters 12 and 13 [years old] who are running into problems with the use of drugs and I think it is a bit draconian to send children off for three years to the Government Industrial School.
“If there is a drug court programme, they can complete their education outside of such an environment,” Bannister told the launch of the 2018 Man Talk panel discussion series organized by the Cave Hill Wesleyan Men Ministry.
Addressing the topic, Not My Child – The Drug Debate, the judicial officer said such a court would have to be funded, possibly through a method that is similar to that of the adult court, which is bring financed by the Organization of American States (OAS) in conjunction with various other entities including the Maria Holder Memorial Trust.
“If the same format is adopted for a juvenile court, I see no harm in adding a juvenile court. I believe there is a problem that we may have in that we may have to build capacity to have additional training for people to man these courts. Dealing with children is different from dealing with adults,” he said.
Bannister expressed concern about the number of children using cannabis, which he said was associated with violence in schools.
“So we need to arrest the use of drugs and we need to get out of this denial that it is not in certain institutions. My information is that it is commonplace in a lot of institutions, even though it might be more publicized in others,” the magistrate told the panel.
Bannister’s call was supported by Manager of the National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA) Betty Hunte, who said that a study conducted in secondary schools in 2013 had found that on average students had been used drugs, particularly marijuana, before their 14th birthday.
That survey also found that 46 per cent of children said “it was really easy for them to access marijuana”, Hunte said, adding that the students reported getting the illicit substances from at home and on the block.
The NCSA manager also backed an earlier suggestion by the magistrate for parents to search their children’s rooms and bags to find out whether they were involved in drugs, a recommendation Orlando Jones, the director of the Centre for Counselling Addiction Support Alternatives, was apprehensive about.
“I have experienced situations where I have seen parents who are actually afraid of their teenage children. So the whole notion of going into their rooms to actually search is really a challenge to the parents,” Jones cautioned.