A detention room, described as “worse than Brickdam Police Station,” exists at the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) facility at Onderneeming, according to sources, who say it is used to discipline the juvenile inmates when they commit infractions.
Stabroek News has been reliably informed that some were shocked when they observed the room at the facility, which is expected to reform and empower young offenders who are placed there by the court for a period.
“It is surprising that there is such a room at NOC, you should not have such a room at a facility which does not cater for hardened criminals but really seeks to reform young children and equip them with a skill,” a source told Stabroek News.
The presence of the room came to light recently after parents of four girls, who are alleging that there were abused by those in authority at the facility, came forward with reports of the girls complaining of being punished in the detention room.
“The children spoke of a detention room… this is a concrete room with a grilled bar and door. There is no bed, there is no mattress, there is no sheet and there is no washroom facility. They spoke of having to defecate and urinate in a bucket and they are left in there for two or three days without the bucket being changed,” APNU Christopher Jones had told this newspaper in a recent interview.
He had said the children were also stripped down to their underwear and placed in the room and many times are not given breakfast or lunch. At dinner time, he said, a combination of all three meals would be thrown together and given to them, “that is if they remember you are in there.”
Meanwhile, the four girls who were removed from the NOC last Saturday following a court order obtained by the Child Care & Protection Agency (CC&PA), were expected to be interviewed by a “multi-discipline” team comprising trained personnel from the agency and the Guyana Police Force.
In what was believed to be an unprecedented move, the CC&PA moved to the High Court on Friday to have the girls removed from the facility so that a thorough investigation into their allegations could commenced.
Head of the CC&PA Ann Greene had told Stabroek News that the juveniles had to be removed from the facility for the investigation to be conducted. She explained that because the children were placed at NOC by a court decision, they could not just be removed without the intervention of the court.
The move to the court followed a report to the agency by the mothers of the four girls.
The recent revelations confirm serious problems at the facility and calls have been made for the relevant authorities, Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Dr Frank Anthony, in particular, to immediately implement changes. The NOC falls under Anthony’s ministry.
There have also been calls for the minister to release the findings of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the 2012 break-out and rampage, which saw sections of the facility being burnt by some of the angry juveniles. Even the ministry official who has responsibility for the NOC has not seen the report.
Statements given to the Col by staff members last year, which have been seen by this newspaper, revealed, among other things, that several of the officials were insufficiently qualified for the posts they held and were not aware of their responsibilities. The statements also revealed that staff members also knew of the plan to create disturbances but either kept it to themselves or took insufficient steps to prevent same from happening.
A source yesterday further indicated that none of the persons in authority at the facility are suitably qualified to be in the positions. “None of them are sufficiently trained to be in those positions and should have been removed since after the 2012 incident,” a source told this newspaper.
The current allegations of physical and sexual abuse at the facility surfaced after the March 22nd escape of some of the female residents of the facility. The juveniles were eventually returned two days later, according to Anthony, who said both male and female staff members from NOC found their camp site. The girls who escaped appeared in court and were returned to the facility for longer periods or to complete their original sentences.
The minister had also stated that there was no report or evidence to support allegations of sexual abuse at the facility. “If there is any case of wrong-doing… if a child can come forward and say this person has done them wrong like a staff of the institution then we want to know that because we do not want such persons on our staff,” Anthony had told a media briefing. He had also pledged that the ministry would cooperate fully with any investigations.
However, contrary to the minister’s account of the girls’ recapture, their parents have said it was a group of male residents and not staff members who were the ones responsible. They stated that the girls reported that staff members knew where they were staying because the male inmates visited them during the short period of their escape and took food for them.
“She tell me that the boys had a nice time with them, sex them for the food they carry and that they just walk in back after they know they can’t go anywhere else,” one of the mothers had told this newspaper.
The girls have also spoken of being subjected to regular cavity searches for “no reason” and being forced to take the “morning after pill,” which is a form of contraception.
They have all named officers who they say abused them sexually and physically and at least one of the officials has been implicated by a number of the girls.
While there were reports that a government official was among those named as abusing the children, sources have indicated that so far there is no such allegation as all the persons named are employed at the facility.
Three of the mothers, who are single parents, spoke of sending their children to NOC as a last resort as it appeared that they had no other alternative. The girls were all sentenced to the facility for wandering.