A major overhaul, including the hiring of more competent staff, an upgrade of the accommodations, and a possible name change, has been recommended for the Government Industrial School (GIS).
The four-member panel that carried out a three-month departmental inquiry into operations at the juvenile detention centre has also called for an end to corporal punishment at the facility and the decriminalisation of wandering, for which several of the GIS residents have been institutionalised.
During a press conference on Monday afternoon at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Information, chairman of the investigating panel Oral Williams disclosed that several issues had been detected related to disciplinary measures, a lack of educational opportunities for residents, operational irregularities at the GIS, and a need for upgraded legislation.
He said a name change was also recommended by the panel that also included Tessa Chadderton-Shaw, Coreen Kennedy-Taitt, and Professor Corin Bailey who served as a consultant.
Williams, a retired deputy commissioner of police, said as part of the investigations, 109 interviews were conducted with current and former staff and residents, among others.
One of the key findings was that several staff members were not qualified for their jobs.
“Several members of staff who are employed by the GIS lack the academic qualifications and the expertise required to cater to the educational, vocational, physical, psychiatric, and psychological environment of troubled youth. The management, past and present, failed to put the appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure that the staff received the proper training to effectively implement the reform measures,” Williams said.
“The internecine warfare among the staff and the breakdown in discipline among the residents rendered the housemistress at Barrows [St Lucy, where female wards are housed] impotent to effectively manage that institution. The panel recommended that an audit of the staff be carried out to determine which members were suitable to work in a reform institution. Employees deemed unsuitable should be replaced by the personnel with the appropriate skills and expertise to cater to at-risk youth.”
He said a continuous training programme for all staff had been recommended.
Additionally, Williams said, the panel had suggested that the seven girls currently at Barrows be relocated to Dodds, St Philip where the boys are housed.
He said the Female Unit was in need of refurbishment and although Dodds was an old property, it was “relatively well kept”.
Reporting that the ongoing renovations at Dodds, which were initially to be completed by September 9, should be finished by the end of the month, Minister of Home Affairs and Information Wilfred Abrahams said it was more practical to house the boys and girls together.
“It is a case of bringing everyone onto one compound but obviously there will be appropriate separations. As it stands now, we have a few girls at Barrows and a few boys at Dodds, not anywhere near the full complement for each institution. But you operate different teaching staff at each institution, you have different medical staff at each institution, two different kitchens, so it is pretty much a bit of a nightmare and a waste of resources to operate two different sets of infrastructure or human resources when you can combine a lot of the administrative functions,” he explained.
Williams also reported that from the panel’s investigations, the educational requirements of residents at the GIS were not being met.
“The panel found that there was very little evidence to suggest that a rigorous programme of academic, technical, vocational, or physical instruction was being provided. The inquiry recommended that full-time and part-time teachers with academic qualifications should be employed and teaching should be done in mixed-ability groups,” he said.
The chairman said proper disciplinary protocols were also needed at the GIS, and it was recommended that corporal punishment be abolished at the institution.
Williams said it had been discovered that the GIS was not in full compliance with the United Nations’ rules relating to juveniles held in custody and child justice consultant Lucy Dawes had prepared an operational manual for use at the reform institution.
The panel also called for the existing juvenile legislation to be modernised.
The chairman said the Reformatory and Industrial School Act, which has governed the GIS since 1926, was “outdated”. As part of that legislative reform, he suggested that wandering be decriminalised.
Minister Abrahams said that while numerous recommendations had been made, Government would have to find the money to implement the necessary ones as soon as possible.
“The Government has taken all the recommendations on board and we are going to action them as quickly as we can. Obviously, where resources have to be found we have to find those resources…. For the things that are critical, the money has to be found,” he said.