Programme was in place for child ex-gang member, Crime Chief says

– psychologist, activist express concerns

Self-confessed gang member Dwane Williams has been in police protective custody for the past six years and in response to questions about whether he has access to psychological therapy and educational opportunities, and has the opportunity to learn basic social skills, Crime Chief Seelall Persaud said that a special programme has been developed for him.

Williams, according to reliable sources was 13 years old at the time of his arrest in 2008, allegedly on a trail near the Lindo Creek mining camp where the burnt remains of eight miners were subsequently found. It was not known that he was in protective custody until recently.

Prior to this he had been charged with the Lusignan massacre and was a main witness in the Bartica massacre preliminary inquiry. The murder charges against him were stopped and he was used as a state witness in the Lusignan massacre High Court trial.

Contacted, Persaud confirmed that Williams was indeed in protective custody. Asked what protective custody meant, he said that in such a situation the person is under the protection of the state and is in a secluded place. Persaud at the time of speaking to this newspaper last week, could not definitively say what was Williams’s age was at the time of his arrest.

Asked whether he has been given access to counselling services and education since then, Persaud stated that a programme is in place for him so that he can maintain his life after he is out of protective custody. He said he could not go into details about the programme, because if he did, it would reveal the location where Williams is being kept.

Based on what Williams told investigators and subsequently the High Court, he was ten years old when joined the ‘Fineman’ gang and would have been a witness to many of the gang’s activities. Under oath, he had testified that he was with ‘Fineman’ in Lusignan, Bartica and Lindo Creek where a total of 33 people were killed. He said too that he would not actively participate and would just look on as ‘Fineman’ did not have confidence in him.

Observers have raised concerns as to what steps the police would have taken to help the child overcome what he had seen. Besides Williams, another example of a juvenile delinquent who became lost in the system was ‘Nasty Man,’ an Agricola teen who was charged with the murders of several Kaieteur News pressmen. At the time of his court appearance he was 13 years old. It is unclear where he is today.

Asked how juveniles are treated when arrested, particularly those who have committed serious crimes, Persaud told Stabroek News that in all cases involved a minor (juvenile), the force looks towards the social services. He explained that if the matter is serious, advice is sought from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the relevant social services authorities are informed.

If it is a minor offence that can be treated by counselling, he said, that route is taken; charging, is a last resort, particularly in cases of wandering. In those cases the juvenile is charged and taken before the court in order to be sentenced to the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) where there are programmes in place to reform them.

He said that all juvenile matters are dealt with in-camera, but if an offence is committed in association with adults, they are charged and the matter is held in open court.

Though Williams has confessed to being part of the gang, questions have been raised as to why Rondel ‘Fineman’ Rawlins would have taken the teenager to Lusignan, Bartica and Lindo Creek.

A security source told Stabroek News that he is yet to be convinced that the teen was actually present during the massacre or was indeed arrested near the Lindo Creek camp. The source went as far as to suggest that there is a possibility that Williams was coaxed to say certain things. “There are a lot of things about this boy’s detention that just does not make sense… I have even concluded that he might have been made a scapegoat to get attention away from the joint services ranks who were being accused of killing those miners,” the source said, while questioning what facilities the police have in place to have Williams in “protective custody.”

According to the source, ‘Fineman’ would not have had the time to babysit. It was either Williams was an active participant in the murders or he was never there, the source said. The source also questioned how long Williams is to remain in custody. “It is already six years. Do they plan to keep him wherever they have him for the rest of his life?” the source asked.

Political activist Freddie Kissoon in a letter in yesterday’s Stabroek News questioned the honesty of former police commissioner Henry Greene in saying that Williams was a possible eyewitness to the Lindo Creek murders.

He said that logistical maps of that area demonstrated that the gang could not have done those killings and Kissoon expressed the view that the period of time between the murders and when the gang members were reportedly spotted at the Falls, would not be possible given the almost impassable terrain.

He said too that it made no sense for Williams to have been wandering on a trail, stating that in that terrain he would have been missed minutes after the gang hit the trail.

 

Destroyed

Psychologist Dr Faith Harding told Stabroek News that if a person such as Williams does not get the required help, he will be destroyed.

“It is very difficult for children because they are looking for an identity,” she said, adding that at around age nine they start having difficulties with parents and end up turning to friends. “So by 13 they are not even sure who they are, what they really want,” and they are also looking to become independent, Dr Harding said.

“If they are incarcerated or put in a detention facility the persons that they have to communicate with would be their peers, and they more divulge what they are thinking and how they are feeling. If they are in a facility with adults, that makes it difficult. They can’t communicate as they should and they end up being bullied, sometimes brutalised by the adults,” she said.

She said that a facility where children are held requires people well trained in the developmental theory of teenagers or adolescents so that they would know the interaction they should be having with them. She said that they need to be able to critically view the personality or temperament so they could match that with the activities they should be engaging in with these children.

According to her, one needs to be well trained to be able to determine who is an adolescent and what the best treatment is while they are there. She said that if the child has done something criminal it means that child needs to be rehabilitated. This criminal activity could have started at age nine, she continued, so by the time they are age 13 they are quiet “adept” at things criminal. She said that at age nine, children begin to relate to gangs and want to belong to one. She said that they begin to think like adults at age 15.

She said too that children, particularly boys in this age group, need a lot of physical activity including outdoor games and exercises as well as continuous discussions on what is right and what is wrong. She said that at this age there are great opportunities as well as enormous risks.

Dr Harding questioned whether in a case of incarceration there is a programme teaching the juvenile delinquent the skills that are needed, giving them the physical activity that they need to ensure that they function better in society as well as addressing issues relating to their sexuality. She said that there must be an academic programme, high physical activity and social skills development in place for a 13-year-old who is incarcerated whether in prison or in a detention home.

She said that if the child is just locked away, he will be “destroyed”, especially if he is unable to use brain cells associated with thinking and socialisation.

Asked what her position on having a child in protective custody is, Dr Harding responded that first of all the child has to be in a place where he can be properly taken care of. She said she sees protective custody as a situation of creating security around the child but “it is a critical learning age.” She said that the situation will become worse if the child is away from a family setting and a home where the good principles required by society are practised.

In this regard, she said, there is need for social workers and psychotherapists to work with the child and he should be receiving therapy at least twice a week. Addressing concerns that the country lacks persons with these skills, Dr Harding chose to differ. “I think that we have people with those skills but they are not being called upon because those in the decision-making area don’t even know that that is what is required,” she said.

Asked if a 13-year-old can honestly recap his criminal experience, she said some of it could be made up and be a result of hallucinations and dreams caused by his experiences. She said a professional needs to be called in to evaluate the child and analyse what is being said.

She said that not getting these required services could result in the development of a psychiatric disorder where the child could harm people, as well as post-trauma stress disorder.

Dr Harding said there is need for several experts in criminal psychology and juvenile psychology within the force to help deal with issues associated with juvenile delinquents.

 

Draft juvenile

justice bill

 

Meanwhile, human rights activist and member of grassroots organization, Red Thread Karen De Souza in an invited comment told Stabroek News that there is a draft juvenile justice bill that is supposed to establish how juveniles at odds with the law are dealt with. She said that if there is a juvenile accused of rape or murder or even some of the gun crimes, then the society has failed the child.

She said that in order for this crime to be dealt with, a situation in which the child understands and takes responsibility for that behaviour must be created. “There must be something else that is happening to open up the possibility of recovery from the kind of behaviour that would have led to the crime,” she said, adding that she knows that a lot is not being done in that direction.

Singling out the NOC, she said that although she has been reading about improvements, she has no information on the real recovery of those young people.

She said that she is sure that this recovery process is not happening for those children who have been found guilty of committing serious crimes and there is a need to address this.

According to De Souza, bandits today, “seem to be pretty young and if we don’t find the skills and means of addressing these things we are going down a really dangerous road. We are already on the dangerous road.”

She said she would be amazed if Williams was being seen by a psychologist. ”I don’t know what it means to be in protective custody… but a child who joined a gang at ten is in serious trouble,” she observed, adding that one often reads about child soldiers in the Congo and other places, but we have that too.

She expressed the view that the authorities here are not equipping themselves with the tools to help these children. She said the services required to deal with these issues are short of personnel and short of skills, although that “is not an excuse for the flags not being thrown up because I don’t think that the systems are working.”

De Souza said she has never heard of a child in protective custody in that way.  “We are lagging far behind where we ought to be.

There needs to be some reform,” she said, adding that the only thing that we can probably boast of in terms of national arrangements is the level of school registration, particularly at the primary level.

She said however that some alarm has to be raised by the school if the child is not attending, to ensure that the child does not disappear and turn into an invisible person until he shows up dead or committing a crime.

She said these systems used to function but don’t any more for unknown reasons, but instead of dealing with critical matters like that, administrators want to stress themselves about whether the children go to school with a badge and send them home for minor matters.

Comments


About these comments

The comments section is intended to provide a forum for reasoned and reasonable debate on the newspaper's content and is an extension of the newspaper and what it has become well known for over its history: accuracy, balance and fairness. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments which contain attacks on other users, slander, coarse language and profanity, and gratuitous and incendiary references to race and ethnicity.