The United States yesterday pledged to strengthen operations to aid in the rehabilitation of juvenile correction centres nationwide.
“Funding will be dedicated to strengthening Guyana’s correction services, with particular focus on the management and rehabilitation of juvenile detainees,” United States Ambassador to Guyana Brent Hardt said yesterday.
Hardt was at the time speaking at a joint signing of part three of a Letter of Agreement (LOA) between his country and Guyana for an additional USD$850,000.
The signing came as allegations of malpractice and sexual abuse by staff at the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) juvenile correctional facility are still under investigation. Four girls were removed from the NOC facility in Onderneeming earlier this month following a court order obtained by the Child Care and Protection Agency (CC&PA), which has since commenced an investigation into the allegations of sexual and physical abuse in tandem with the Guyana Police Force. The move to the court followed a report to the agency by the mothers of the four girls.
Following a fire at the NOC in 2012, a Board of Inquiry (BOI) was set up to investigate. While the final report is yet to be released, preliminary reports have indicated that most of the officials working at the institute at the time were untrained and unqualified for the positions they held. Reports are that this situation remains the same currently and even Youth Minister Dr Frank Anthony had admitted at a recent press conference that it is difficult to attract trained and qualified persons to work at NOC as many persons do not want to travel to the Essequibo location to work.
Hardt yesterday explained that some of the funds would be used to support the NOC and Georgetown Prison to address gang development and repeat offending by youths, while noting that it complements ongoing work being executed under the USAID Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment initiative. “Working together with Guyanese partners, our focus will be to share and implement international best practices designed to prevent gang recruitment in prison and to reduce recidivism rates among juvenile offenders,” Hardt stated.
“This programme will complement ongoing work under the USAID SKYE programme, which has been assisting over 1,000 young Guyanese in gaining practical work and life competencies such as financial management and improved oral and written communication skills. In all of these areas, we believe this funding can make a positive difference,” he further added.
He informed that already social workers selected have had the opportunity to visit a Nebraska state juvenile correctional facility to observe how it works and that there are further plans for similar programmes.
Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett noted that the government has come under much pressure as it pertains to having the NOC properly managed and expressed gratitude at having the grant, from which she said a portion will be used to aid the rehabilitation at the NOC. “With respect to the juvenile detention centre, this has been a challenge for some time for us in how we can improve the management and we will certainly be working with the United States, to learn from them and improve so that the centre we have now would properly managed,” she said.
Parts of the monies will also go towards enhanced training in police functions, such as evidence gathering, interrogation methods and case development. Spending will also focus on specialised investigation in the areas of human trafficking, gender-based violence, corruption and money laundering.
Rodrigues-Birkett noted that the signing was representative of a culmination of the collaboration of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, which has had several successes since its 2011 signing. She pointed to the increase in interdictions since its implementation as evidence of the multiplicity of the training received under the initiative.