A massive investigation has been launched at the Government Industrial School (GIS) in response to a number of “pressing issues”, the most recent of them the recent escape of two teenage girls from the Barrows, St Lucy branch of the correctional facility.
And board members are calling for swift and sweeping changes to the way operations at the institution are conducted.
In fact, Barbados TODAY understands that a majority, including chairman, the Reverend Dr Joseph Johnny Tudor, has called for the departure of Principal, Erwin Leacock, following a meeting on Wednesday evening at the Ministry of Home Affairs.
On April 1, 16-year-old Tammagn Omega Caesar and 15-year-old Kyesha Wilson vanished without a trace moments after being spotted in broad daylight scaling the facility’s ten-foot barbed wired fence.
An official close to the situation indicated that numerous complaints about inadequate security measures, including the absence of the cameras which have reportedly not been functioning for at least a year, had fallen on deaf ears, along with other “critical” matters.
When contacted, 71-year-old Reverend Tudor, a former government minister confirmed that the principal had in fact been “read the riot act”. At the moment however, he stressed that the wellbeing of the two escaped teens was of the greatest concern.
“There are several other things, but right now we are dealing with the fact that two girls have escaped. I can’t sleep and every time the phone rings I am jumping, because I am totally uncomfortable, very upset and everybody knows it,” he revealed in a telephone interview.
“We are making a request to have the matter fully investigated, because the briefs presented to the board are unacceptable and the board has literally read the riot act to the principal. We are not happy and the matter is receiving our very full attention.”
Numerous efforts to reach the embattled principal were unsuccessful, but the frustrated chairman revealed that even 10 days after the incident, board members were “not yet entirely clear” about what happened on the day in question.
He however revealed that prior to the incident; the board had expressed tremendous concern about the measures in place to guarantee the safety and protection of inmates.
“We found that there were breaches in the operation of the industrial school in terms of what are the minimum requirements for the protection of students and there have been breaches that we are very unhappy about as a board. It is the responsibility of the school to ensure the girls are safe,” he stressed.
While the upset chairman added that there were other challenges to be ironed out, he expressed confidence that the all female section of the institution, which houses no more than 40 or 50 girls at a time, could be reformed.
“The school itself is not a hostile prison environment. It is very accommodating and understanding of some of the challenges that our young people have in terms of interacting with the society and they are treated in a manner that is humane.
“The surroundings at Barrows are not rigid and there is a lot of interaction from time to time with organisations who visit the school and lend assistance in terms of training and so forth.”
Of the inmates, he added: “Some of the girls are very bright and are capable of doing very well at CXC in there. They do very well, but we have to be protective of them. I take no chances with the children, because they are our special gifts in society.
“We are doing programmes with Oxford University with the residents trying to get them to understand behavioural patterns and so on and we want to improve their communication with their parents, friends and families and society in general to avoid certain difficulties and to solve problems without violence,” he said.
Reverend Tudor indicated that board members also intended to lobby for the reform of some archaic laws still governing juvenile offenders.
On Thursday correspondence was reportedly sent to the office of Home Affairs Minister, Edmund Hinkson from the institution’s board outlining its assessment of the situation and giving recommendations for the way forward. Attempts to contact the minister have been unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, with the two teenage girls still at large, police have continued to request the public’s assistance in returning them to the custody of the state. [email protected]