The main institution tasked with reforming delinquent young girls has been blamed for significantly contributing to the demise of the same people the staff is sworn to protect.
Children rights activist, Shelly Ross, a harsh critic of the Government Industrial School (GIS) over the years, has renewed her plea for tremendous reform at the institution.
She contends that many ‘deviant’ young girls, often vilified for wandering, are in fact victims of “severe” sexual, emotional and physical abuse and desperately need help.
“I am dealing with one right now who has been suicidal, homicidal and who had severe anger management problems from the early age of 13. These issues are deep, the girls are failing at school and they can’t focus on anything except what happens at home,” Ross argued.
“In many cases, the schools are ignoring these young girls because they are deemed as troubled. One rape victim told me she felt extremely depressed because nobody helped her. All they are being told is that they shouldn’t talk about it. How can a child at 11 or 12 exist in a world like ordinary children having to deal with all of that? It is hard, because there is a lot of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.”
Ross has further suggested that sub standard conditions, inhumane treatment and a lack of productive activities at the Barrows, St. Lucy correctional facility will ultimately stifle efforts by law enforcement to quell the country’s turbulent crime situation.
Nearly two weeks ago, two teenaged girls fled the facility and have not yet been found.
Unless operations significantly improve, the child advocate predicts other young girls will attempt to flee the institution.
“Girls will take flight because of the conditions. Regardless of how bad we think a person is they still have feelings and they still want to be treated like decent human beings. These girls have issues to be dealt with and I am hoping that when those girls are found, they will be helped and pardoned.
“If you are going to send a child up there for three important years of her life, you have to educate her and prepare her to fit back into society and be able to continue education. If we don’t do something about it, we can forget about reducing crime,” she said.
The activist, who has worked with dozens of young female inmates at the GIS told Barbados TODAY that in addition to sweeping changes, certain high level officials should be held accountable for “wrecking” the lives of society’s most vulnerable.
“I have interviewed girls who came from the institution telling me about the horrible conditions and the reality of fitting back into real life is too difficult for many of them.
“A lot of them cannot fit back into their homes. They have no formal education, and they’re 16 or 17 years old and can’t hold proper jobs. They have no money to seek private education. When we talk about our crime rate, these are the things that we have to be looking at.”
On Thursday the GIS Chairman, Reverend Joseph Johnny Tudor told Barbados TODAY that an investigation had been launched into myriad of problems facing the institution. He also indicated that Principal, Erwin Leacock had been “read the riot act”.
“I am very happy to hear that the board has spoken out and I would like to see some members of the administration gone and replaced with staff who have proven that they are passionate about helping young people.”
Ross meanwhile called for amendments to some of the laws, which justified the incarceration of young girls for “petty” offences like “wandering”. She also appealed for the reform of other critical social services which youth relied on for assistance.
“I went to an appointment at the Psychiatric Hospital with a young lady and after waiting for three hours, we were told that the official she was waiting to see had to go out. I have seen for myself that a lot of our young people need help and for our services to upgraded urgently,” she added.
Barbados TODAY again attempted to contact the GIS principal as well as Minister of Home Affairs, Edmund Hinkson for comment, but was unsuccessful.