Juvenile offenders who enter the justice system will now be kept at a $37.6 million holding centre, which was formally opened yesterday afternoon.
The Sophia Juvenile Holding Centre was declared open by Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee. It is the first facility of its kind locally and is located in the compound of the Sophia Training School.
This facility has become operational more than two years after the legislative framework was tabled and approved in parliament for its establishment. Rohee explained that there has been a need for a juvenile holding centre for some time and before it could be satisfied it was necessary that the Juvenile Offenders Act be amended.
The Juvenile Offenders Amendment Act, passed over three years ago, makes provisions for Holding Centres for Juveniles. Section 20 (a) of the Act says that the [subject] Minister-the Minister of Home Affairs-may establish and maintain as many centres as may be necessary as the Holding Centres for Juveniles for the reception, care and custody of children and young persons under the orders of the court or for any other appropriate reasons as the Minister may determine.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) is responsible for juveniles who are remanded by an order of the court, Rohee said. The Government of Guyana through the MoHA, he said, had decided as a matter of policy that juveniles from age ten and over but under the age of seventeen, who have come into conflict with the law, are not to be detained in the same manner like adult offenders.
Rohee said that the Sophia Juvenile Holding Centre is one of several which will be constructed to “provide for the detention of juveniles who have been held pending charge, etc. and/or on remand and of juveniles who have completed the period of their sentence and are awaiting rehabilitation.”
“I am aware that this holding centre may not be a grand substitute for the home. It will nevertheless provide care and attention to the juvenile offenders that may be lacking in some homes in Guyana,” he said.
The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security and the Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sport are expected to provide their social workers to play a role in the operation of the Holding Centre by offering counselling and advice to the juveniles and their parents and close relatives. “These minimum standards must ensure that the services provided are within a physical environment that lends to a peaceful atmosphere,” Rohee said, “in which the young adult can indeed feel a sense of caring on the part of those who would be administering the Holding Centre.”
This new centre, Rohee told those tasked with maintaining it, must be a “show piece” which should provide excellent service and administer its operations in an efficient and effective manner.
Long, long overdue
Commissioner of Police Henry Greene said that the police were holding juveniles at designated police stations because there was nowhere else to keep them. However, he stressed that at no time were the juveniles being kept together with adults.
“This place,” he said, referring to the new holding centre, “is long, long, long overdue.”
As a young policeman, Greene recounted, he transferred juveniles to a facility in Belfield or to the Salvation Army. Later, all the responsibility for holding juvenile offenders was left to the police and efforts were made to identify allotted stations where juveniles could be kept.
Previously, he said, police had been carrying the burden of juvenile holding without the necessary training. However, there are now many officers qualified in the necessary field and who will be able to ensure that the juvenile offenders are well looked after.
Retired Assistant Commissioner of Police and former Commander of Police D Division Paulette Morrison will be heading the Sophia Juvenile Holding Centre, Greene said. Morrison, according to him, has the necessary qualifications and experience for the job.
Morrison had been transferred from her post as police commander after it was found that a teenage prisoner had been tortured in the D Division (West Demerara/East Bank Essequibo). Three policemen were later charged but the case against them has since been dismissed.
Greene subsequently noted that juvenile offenders come to police in “many, many kinds.” Juveniles have been arrested for serious offences like murder or for gang-related activities and then there are those who have been pulled in for wandering, he said. The facility will cater for these various types of offenders.
The holding centre is heavily barred but comfortable inside. Dormitories are equipped with double bunk beds, washrooms and storage cupboards. Some form of rehabilitation will be available to the juveniles staying at this facility and Greene expressed hope that this will motivate some to decide to change their lives for the better. “We will look to see how these youths can be handled…we will support and continue to ensure that juveniles are brought under justice in this country,” Greene said.
Love and care
During her remarks, Morrison, who chaired the ceremony, said that the police force is committed to investing time in the children of the nation.
The facility was made possible by a commitment from the government and saw a notable contribution from UNICEF. Morrison said that although the UNICEF representative was absent from the ceremony she wished to express sincere thanks to the organization for its input.
“We are going to show them [the juveniles] love, care, kindness, patience,” Morrison promised.
Meanwhile, Superinten-dent of Works Fiaz Khan explained that construction on the building commenced on June 18, 2008 and the two-storey building was completed in October of the same year. Each floor, he said, has four dormitories.
The building, Khan further reported, is 38 feet by 60 feet and is built of solid concrete reinforced with steel bars. At the end of construction in October 2008 the building had cost just over $35 million. Works, he said, were resumed again in 2009 and grill-work was installed around the building at an additional cost of about $3.3 million and then in 2010 light fixtures and the construction of two revetments cost an additional $2.9 million.
“It is completed and is intended for the purposes it has been constructed for,” Khan stated.