Finance Minister Winston Jordan yesterday announced the creation of a Legal Aid programme next year to not only focus on defending non-violent juvenile offenders but also in reducing the burden on the prison system.
Jordan told the National Assembly that the inclusion of this initiative is a part of government’s efforts to streamline a “more child-focused and youth-friendly” budget.
During his presentation, he informed that government will be piloting the programme to work on the defence of minor, non-violent offenders, who are on pre-trial detention. “It is not the wish of this administration to have children and youth incarcerated for petty offences, such as wandering. To continue to do so would be to deprive this nation of the true potential of its rich human capital”, he said, adding that by the end of 2018, it is hoped that the programme will commence work on the over 500 cases, on assessing the sustainability of this pilot Legal Aid programme, and on providing capacity building to non-governmental organisations that share a similar objective. Jordan told the House that government’s work on the new legal aid programme, is part of “a broader vision, which seeks to reduce the burden on our prisons, allowing for a more people focused, efficient justice system”. He said that such a programme will allows for more effective use of the country’s limited financial and human resources.
Alongside the Legal Aid programme, he said that a Law Reform Commission will be established to work on amending and modernising the legislation to cater for non-custodial sanctions for various types of offences.
Further, he said that the current system that incarcerates a person for the usage of harmful substances will be re-examined. “Our people need our compassion and our help so that they can be rehabilitated and given the support they need to live healthy and productive lives”, he said.
According to Jordan, in 2018, government is aiming towards conducting a study on appropriate treatment for substance abuse as a health issue within the criminal justice system. This, he said, will inform “our interaction with the Judiciary, as we assist in developing policies to reduce over-reliance on imprisonment”.
He said too that probation services will also be strengthened to support this paradigm shift.