The newly installed board of the Government Industrial School (GIS) has “hit the ground running” with an investigation of every complaint on record against the institution and a full review of the protocols for operations at the juvenile detention center.
Minister of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs Wilfred Abrahams revealed that a number of recent probes from the new board have yielded “nothing”. However, in the interest of full transparency, an investigating officer from the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) has been assigned to “fully” investigate” all files in relation to the complaints.
The developments follow outrage earlier this year when a female juvenile inmate was recorded at the school’s Barrow’s, St. Lucy compound lying naked on a cement floor whilst in solitary confinement. Numerous accusations were levelled about alleged misconduct over the years from those entrusted with the country’s at-risk youth.
“I intend that every single complaint that we have on record, including the last one that is on everybody’s mind, that we investigate those fully and that we will prepare a report and make a report to the public,” Abrahams declared.
“The investigation is because there was a feeling that persons’ rights had been infringed and there was this massive corruption at the Government Industrial School (GIS) and there was a systemic cover up, and that there were complaints that were made that had not been investigated. We are addressing that issue and we are investigating all of the complaints that we have had on record.
“I have had a conversation with the investigating officer. I have advised her that there are no restrictions ‘on you.’Please investigate the complaints as fully as you can. If there is merit there and you can substantiate bringing legal proceedings, then you are free to do so’.
“’If what you find points to some laxity on our part with respect to protocols but doesn’t amount to something that would give rise to a criminal charge, then recommend to us what needs to be done.’ So the investigation has been turned over to the police. We have already met with the investigating officer and everybody is clear as to what we are doing,” the Home Affairs minister added.
He and other GIS officials were unable to say the number of complaints on record or how far back they are willing to go. They have however reported significant progress, in collaboration with the United Nations’ Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in the development of new protocols to govern the school.
Pressure groups and activists have been calling for the installation of cameras at the GIS and for the girls’ section to be moved to a section of the compound that currently houses male offenders, among other reforms.
Declining to delve into details, Abrahams said: “We have moved full steam ahead with the examination of all of the protocols at GIS to condense into writing the protocols so that there is no uncertainty and no grey areas. A lot of the practices that I guess may have made sense quite a while ago have been revisited and we are trying to use best practice now even as we await the protocols to be completed.”
When contacted, GIS Chair, the Reverend Lucille Baird said the new board has “buckled down” and is trying to get as much done as possible.
“What I can tell you is that we are working very hard, assiduously. As a new board, we are working together and I can tell you that we are carrying out a needs assessment, so that we can be guided as to what are the concerns, issues and areas that we need to focus on and bring some assistance to and reform,” Reverend Baird added.