The Women in Action Network (WiAN) has called for a clean sweep of the Government Industrial School (GIS) that would involve the removal of everyone involved in the management of the facility, including Minister of Home Affairs Wilfred Abrahams, and compensation for affected wards.
Asserting that the recent investigation into operations at the facility had raised more questions than answers, it further declared that it would not be easing up on its demands for clear answers about what was going on at the juvenile detention centre.
WiAN said on Wednesday that the entire Advisory Board for the GIS was “guilty of neglect, incompetence and failing to give advice for the protection of the wards of GIS”.
“Minister Wilfred Abrahams, the Board, the entire staff of GIS and the Permanent Secretary need to resign to bring this era of the Government Industrial School to an end,” WiAN manager Tempu Nefertari insisted.
During a press conference at the Ministry on Monday, Oral Williams, chairman of a four-member panel that carried out a three-month inquiry into operations at the GIS, identified several issues at the institution and recommended a major overhaul that would see more competent, qualified staff hired, an end to corporal punishment at the facility, and a possible name change.
Minister Abrahams gave the assurance that all the evidence gathered by the panel would be handed over to police to take further action if warranted.
However, Nefertari suggested that if the section on recommendations was taken out of the report, “very little” has been told about the actual findings.
“We are told the findings cannot be discussed because of a likelihood of matters going before the courts. So, should we expect charges to be laid? In one iteration we heard of one or two cases of physical abuse; is it one case or two cases? And then in another iteration, mention was made of a few cases. How many cases of physical abuse were found? There were no cases of sexual misconduct? Have any staff members been implicated in these cases?
“Of the allegations investigated, how many were made by wards and how many by staff members? When will we know from the Commissioner of Police if any charges will be laid out of the evidence presented in the report? These are the questions the Minister needs to answer. Running to a new building with new staff and an operations manual does not make these questions go away,” Nefertari insisted.
She added: “To even suggest that a care institution for girls be renamed Secure Residential Facility indicates a lack of focus on what matters.”
WiAN added that Minister Abrahams needed to get to the finer points of the impact of employing “unqualified, untrained, uncaring square pegs in round holes” to supervise troubled girls over the years.
Furthermore, it was the group’s view that as minister with responsibility for the GIS, the buck stops with Abrahams and he should be held accountable for the failure of the school to ensure the desired rehabilitative care.
This failure, Nefertari charged, had resulted in the “psychological torture” of some of the wards.
In addition to Abrahams’ resignation letter, the group is calling for compensation to be awarded to the wards whom they claimed the “government imprisoned and neglected”.
“He must be ready to take responsibility for the damages caused by the actions of the staff he promised to back and start talking compensation packages,” the WiAN head stated, adding that the damage caused could add to the instability of society over the lifetimes of traumatised girls-turned-women.
“And the resources the Government would have to put out in the future to stabilise such a person could be better paid now at this point of the girls receiving the rehabilitative care that they need. The allegations of abuse need to be taken in the context of how unqualified and untrained staff would deal with teenage girls who have been already living with a range of issues,” Nefertari contended.
WiAN has also queried the Government’s decision to house male and female GIS wards in the same facility.
A decision was made, following an assessment of the Female Unit located at Barrows, St Lucy, that the girls would be moved to the refurbished facility at Dodds, St Philip, but be located in separate sections – a recommendation which the investigating panel endorsed in its recommendations.
However, Nefertari argued that housing girls and boys with raging hormones in the same facility was “a recipe for disaster”.
“Whether it is girls in need of care or girls with a criminal leaning, these girls need not be living in the same space as teenage boys at a time when they are already easily distracted. Decisions like these leave us to wonder if the Minister understands and cares about how these young people function,” the WiAN head asserted.