(GIS) – Reducing crime and violence among the youth in the Caribbean is a high priority for citizens and governments within the region.
For the Government of Saint Lucia, it’s part of its medium-term development plan for citizen safety, with a goal of a 45 percent reduction of serious crime by 2022 and a 30 percent reduction in repeat offending by that same year.
Juveniles form part of that percentage, but with the help of the OECS Juvenile Justice Reform Project (JJRP) 2, the country hopes to achieve that goal. The project is in its final stages and recently held a training workshop on its Diversion Strategy implementation plan.
Building on the first juvenile justice reform programme, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) through its Juvenile Justice Reform Project (JJRP) 2 seeks to strengthen juvenile justice systems to promote the rehabilitation and reintegration of youth in conflict with the law back into society.
JJRP 2 targets youth aged 18 and under, who are in conflict with the law in Antigua and Barbuda, Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The project works with a wide cross section of stakeholders including multiple Ministries, communities, NGOs, and the private sector, to implement reform measures that, taken together, will result in more modernized systems of youth justice in the Caribbean. The diversion strategy implementation plan is one such measure.
Juvenile Justice Expert Gary Waint says diverting juveniles from formal court proceedings are critical.
“At times, some communities and the police can see a child a number of times. Sometimes that child requires a substantive intervention, which has been set up in the Child Justice Act by initial inquiry, that by the time a child sees the police, the DPP, the probation officer and appears in front of the magistrate, that is a major substantive intervention for a child to go through. The whole process needs to be done collaboratively within the community. I hope that as a result of the training, a working group will consist of the DPP, magistrate, probation officer, school authorities and perhaps the defense council as well.”
Magistrates, members of the DPP’s office, social workers, the probation office as well as human services were all present at the training workshop. They shared their greatest takeaways from the training.
“What has jumped out to all of us, I suppose, is the fact that we have not come together as state agencies, to decide on proper implementation of a diversion strategy. What is important is that everyone must be on the same page and we must collaborate in the interest of the child and the country.”
Julieta Raymond, consultant advisor within the Ministry of Equity, said: “We have a plethora of situations that require children, especially youth-at-risk, to benefit from programs that would take them away from the juvenile justice system. I can see that the diversionary programs would help to effectively establish programs that would help those children to be more productive.”
The Juvenile Justice Expert believes that this approach will ultimately reduce recidivism and overall crime.
“I think a lot of kids avoid stigmatization by not going to court proceedings, but this is about juvenile justice and doing justice for individual children and reducing crime. High risk offenders should be dealt with more services, more intervention as opposed to low risk children. If you reduce recidivism you reduce crime and if you reduce crime you increase public safety,” said Mr. Waint.
The JJRP 2 will provide ongoing assistance for implementation of model laws, regulations, policies, and protocols in the six OECS countries and introduce diversion and alternative sentencing, psychosocial services, rehabilitation services, and re-integration of youth leaving rehabilitation facilities and programs.