The days of children facing lengthy sentences at the Government Industrial School (GIS) for committing offences are numbered.

In fact, if Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite has his way, the conditions under which juveniles are committed to the GIS, and the length of their stay, will be among major changes brought about to the juvenile justice system.

Mr. Brathwaite, who is also Minister of Home Affairs, gave this commitment as he addressed Barbados??? first National Conference on Juvenile Justice under the theme: Redefining Juvenile Justice???Towards a Better Future, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Tuesday.

???I am of the firm opinion that we are causing more harm than good by confining our children to the Government Industrial School and sometimes [Her Majesty???s Prison] Dodds,??? he told participants at the conference.

But, he lamented, under Barbados??? laws, the minimum sentence for which a child could be sent to the GIS was three years. ???You have many young people who have been sent to the Government Industrial School for three years and that really should not be. There may be cases where you want them there for their own protection, but certainly not for three years,??? the Minister maintained.

He noted that the majority of children who came into contact with the criminal justice system were already severely disadvantaged by neglect, abuse, mental distress, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse and loneliness, and had a general feeling of isolation.

He added that while in custody, these children might be exposed to further verbal, physical, sexual and emotional abuse by older youth.??Mr. Brathwaite also expressed concern for children between the ages of 16 and 18 who were sent to the adult prison.

???When you send a marginalised youth into an adult prison, all he learns is how to fit in. What society receives back is an adult whose family values have been indoctrinated by adult criminals,??? he warned.

The Attorney General told those present that the conference was designed to suggest a paradigm shift for dealing with the youth and to keep in line with the provisions set out under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.??He explained that the Convention highlighted the fact that any action taken against a child committing an offence must have his or her development in focus.

The three-day conference will examine the present state of Barbados??? juvenile justice system, international reform developments, and the national reform agenda.??The conference concludes tomorrow, Thursday, April 23.

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