For Jodi*, living in state care was an absolute nightmare.
After being placed in state care and passed around a stream of strangers’ homes in Kingston, Jodi ran back to her own family, despite the fact that her biological father beat her with water hoses, boards, and tools. It did not take long before she was handed back to the state and housed at a Place of Safety. Jodi was then transported to Armadale - she made one final attempt to escape the conditions there, but was once again caught. Then, the state imprisoned her at the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Center at the age of14, alongside adult criminals.
At Fort Augusta, misbehavior led to beatings with batons and wooden boards. Punishment cells for the unruly were covered in feces and infested with rats and insects; multiple girls would be placed in each. She was wary of adult inmates; once, a woman attempted to set her on fire by dousing her with kerosene and throwing burning tissue at her. At the time of her interview with a UN investigator into torture, she had been at Fort Augusta for a total of three years and six months.
Between 2010 and 2012, there were eighteen reported incidents of attempted suicides within correctional facilities housing children, and forty-eight in facilities for child-care from 2006-2010. In Jamaica, many girls who are deemed "uncontrollable" are sent to adult prisons and are subjected to overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Wards report fending off sexual advances from adults. Food is sometimes unfit to eat. Many wards are placed on lockdown in these facilities. During this time, they may be denied access to bathroom facilities, education, and recreation.
Almost half (49%) of children in police lockups spent five days there. Some children who had committed no crime were locked in a police station for over a month. In at least two stations, fewer than 15% of children detained were removed within the 48-hour limit during the entirety of 2012. That means that for over 75% of these children, the state acted illegally and neglected its duty.
Police lockups can be unsanitary and inhospitable, and at their worst, violate basic human rights standards. In 2010, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture described lockups as “filthy and infested with rats, cockroaches and lice,” with “poor ventilation and an unbearable stench.” Many children who are found "in need of care and protection" languish in these degrading cells for weeks.
At Jamaicans for Justice, we find this situation unacceptable. We ask that you join us in demanding that the Jamaican government institute meaningful reforms in juvenile justice and state-run child care that respect the basic human rights of vulnerable children. We ask that you join the call to lift up, not lock up our children.
*The details of this case were taken from the 2010 Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in Jamaica. Names have been changed to preserve anonymity
#LiftUpNOTLockUp Jamaica's children
The stories of abuse and neglect of children in both children’s homes and detention centers are too common. We are distressed that the children who are in the greatest need of care and support are getting the least of it.
We call for a paradigm shift - the Jamaican State must lift up, not lock up, our children.
With this in mind, we call on The Ministries of Youth, National Security and Justice to take immediate action:
For the children in lockups:
1. Remove children from Fort Augusta and Police Lockups.
2. Remove the designation of “Uncontrollable Child” from the legislation as a reason to incarcerate a child.
3. Revise the Child Care and Protection Act and the Corrections Act as well as provide access to quality legal counsel for children who come before the courts.
4. Create smaller rehabilitative centres for children: not juvenile jails.
For the children in state care:
1. Invest in proper training for the staff at children’s homes across the island.
2. Institute proper monitoring systems to ensure that children are held in sanitary and comfortable environments that meet basic human rights standards.
3. Fully implement the recommendations made in the 2003 Keating Report.
For all children in conflict with the law:
1. Establish protocols and guidelines for lockdowns that protect the human rights of wards and remove unchecked power from wardens.
2. Ensure that wards in juvenile facilities receive adequate psychological and educational services.
3. End the interrogation of suspected children without an attorney or caregiver present.
Children in juvenile institutions and children’s homes are entitled to the same quality of care and support as children being appropriately raised at home. Jamaica must not continue to fail to provide them with this.