Law enforcement officials have been chided for taking a heavy-handed approach to young offenders, according to a regional expert in juvenile crime.
Despite mounting pressure from some circles to place harsher penalties on mostly teenage boys and young men who continue to find themselves at the mercy of the law courts, the coordinator of the Juvenile Justice Reform Project, Lyndel Archibald said such measures would likely push at-risk youth further into crime. Instead, she is advising governments to pursue rehabilitation first.
Archibald said: “I am not sure that we can say that we’ve done enough and some of the ways in which we have been dealing with young people may not have been the best ways.
“For instance when we arrest young people and we do not conduct assessments to determine their level of risk; we arrest, we charge and we put high-risk kids with low risk kids in a detention facility. The low risk kids will eventually become high risk kids, because they will be influenced by the activities and interaction with high risk ones.”
She further contended that while Government was concerned about the prevalence of illegal guns on the streets, emphasis should also be placed on changing the mentalities of those who were using firearms.
She said: “We have to look at the situation with guns because it is a problem across the region. I can’t say we’ve been neglecting one as opposed to the other, but I think dealing with both simultaneously will give us the opportunity to rid the region of some of the problems we’re facing, both with guns and with the negative behaviour.”
Archibald was speaking to journalist on the sidelines of a US government-sponsored initiative, in which more than a dozen social workers, probation officers, school counsellors, police officers and teachers are training to improve their understanding of how young minds think.
The programme, which also brought participants from St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines focused heavily on imparting the social skills, anger control and moral reasoning – skills which the participants are expected to pass on to at-risk youth in their care.
Archibald said: “At the end of this one week session, the group will be able to work with young children or even adults with aggressive behaviour, teaching them how to change their behaviour using moral reasoning and social skills. The trainers will be able to train group facilitators to be able to do what I have explained . . . . So we’re not only in the process of not only building capacity but we’re creating an avenue for sustainability where we wouldn’t necessarily have to bring back the facilitator to have those sessions.”
She added that countries across the region were struggling with similar challenges involving deviant children and young adults and indicated that simply punishing youngsters who run afoul of the law was simply not working.
She said: “We are also looking across the region to improve the juvenile justice systems by making our region less punitive and more rehabilitative. This is one of the key tools required to work with young people to help them change their behaviour so that we don’t have to deal with them at the other end of the spectrum where they’ve been arrested and put through the legal system.
“So this in itself can be used as a preventative tool for kids that are high risk, kids that show tendencies for negative behaviour.”
The tools from the sessions, she said, would help improve understanding of the reasons for the behaviours exhibited by at-risk youth, in order for them to be treated accordingly.
Archibald said: “Some may not necessarily need to be taken to a detention centre, they could be diverted away from the court and then they could be put through a rehabilitation programme and worked on while they continue school and while they are at home. Others can go through the detention process and then they will be rehabilitated there.”