Long probation periods and sentences at the Government Industrial School (GIS) for juveniles will be among the issues discussed during the upcoming National Conference on Juvenile Justice.
The conference is slated to run from Tuesday, April 21, until Thursday, April 23, under the theme: Redefining Juvenile Justice ??? Towards a Better Future, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre (LESC).
Chief Probation Officer of the Probation Department, Dorita Lovell, raised some of these concerns as she addressed the launch of the conference at the LESC recently.
???We are worried about the long sentences, where a person is placed on probation for one to three years depending on the severity of the offences [because] in some cases we felt that a shorter period could have been more impactful,??? she stated.
Ms. Lovell also noted that the three to five year sentencing requirement for children to be sent to the GIS was also excessive, pointing out that in some cases, it was more extreme than punishment meted out to adults for more severe offences.
Up to February this year, there were 123 males on probation and 37 females, for offences ranging from assault, disturbances, drugs and wandering. The most prevalent of these were assault and wandering.
Ms. Lovell explained that probation was a sanction where the court released the juvenile offender to a parent or guardian to live in the community under certain rules and conditions. Those rules and conditions, she pointed out, attempted to balance the need to protect society with what was in the best interest of the child.
She added that the Probation Department played a crucial role in forming the link between the offender and the agencies which provided care and counselling for offenders.
???With the changing nature of crime and the face of the offender, the Department has kept abreast of international best practices, while still maintaining a culturally relevant approach to persons in conflict with the law,??? she explained.
The Chief Probation Officer added that the Department also sought to rehabilitate offenders and recognised the importance of proactive measures to intervene and intercept those individuals at risk.
Deputy Representative of the United Nations Children???s Fund, Muriel Mafico, explained that the agency became involved with the initiative to reform the juvenile justice system in Barbados because children in conflict with the law were among the most vulnerable in society.
She explained that incarcerating children resulted in parent exclusion, and children being ???out of sight, behind closed doors and away from their families???. ???This often leads to a cycle of stigmatisation and isolation, which pushes the children closer to the edge and deeper into the risk of repeat offences,??? she warned.
Ms. Mafico noted that UNICEF worked with governments around the region and partnered with the Government of Barbados in 2014 to undertake the Situation Analysis of the national juvenile justice system.
Stating that Government was sending a strong message of its continued commitment to juvenile justice reforms by undertaking the conference, Ms. Mafico said it represented a ???watershed??? moment for the island.
???I am confident the conference will lead to concrete decisions which will transform the juvenile justice system in Barbados. We need to be innovative and we need to explore new approaches that are grounded in today???s reality. Above all, a more restorative approach with greater emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration is required,??? Ms. Mafico stressed.