Two juvenile inmates of the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) were taken for medical attention at the Georgetown Public Hospital in shackles on Thursday, raising concerns about the procedure in light of the facility’s aim to rehabilitate and not criminalise young offenders.
Just after midday, Stabroek News spotted a young girl, who a relative later said was 13 years old and a boy who appeared to be around the same age walking towards the New Market Street entrance. They were both wearing foot cuffs although they were in the company of a uniformed police officer and a woman. They subsequently left after boarding a police force bus.
Outside the hospital, a sister of the teen, voiced her displeasure at the girl being in shackles.
“I didn’t expect to see my sister in that way,” she said, later adding, “I don’t like them bringing them with shackles on their feet. Is not like if they are some big criminal.”
The woman noted that her family was never informed that the girl was being taken to the hospital for medical attention. She had gone to the hospital to visit someone and saw her sister there. The woman said that she then contacted her mother, who said she was unaware that the teen was taken to the hospital. She subsequently learnt that the girl was taken to the hospital to be treated for kidney stones but an examination found that she did not have any.
The woman said that the teen had complained that while at NOC she often suffers verbal abuse and it was for this reason she had previously tried to escape. She said that the teen was sent to NOC after being charged with wandering five months ago. She was brought to the Juvenile Detention Centre in Georgetown about two weeks ago after her escape attempt.
When approached after Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly, Youth Minister Dr Frank Anthony said he was unaware of this situation.
Christopher Jones, APNU’s Shadow Youth Minister told Stabroek News, in an invited comment, that he disagreed with the shackling of the teens, whom he said are children and not prisoners.
“What is sad about all of this is that even in the face of all of what had thus far been reported in the media, the minister remains silent and it’s now getting worse,” Jones said, while referring to allegations of abuse levelled against staff at the NOC. “That is why I am repeating the call that the NOC should be placed under the Ministry of Human Services,” he said, while adding that it is clear that the minister and the ministry have lost control of the NOC.
Jones said that police accompanying the child and a police vehicle being used to transport that child will do more damage than good. “The damage that is being done to those students in some cases cannot be undone and this here again is one such case,” he stressed, while also saying that the construction of a confinement building with cells at the NOC testifies to the ministry’s inability to grasp the damage that it is doing to the young offenders.