There are several inefficiencies in Jamaica’s child care system, and our government is not doing enough to eradicate the problem.
The event in contemporary Jamaican history that brought the glaring inequality of the state child care system into attention was the May 2009 fire at the Armadale juvenile facility in St. Ann. Armadale was home to 62 girls—or “wards,” some of whom committed crimes as juveniles—who lived in substandard conditions in violation of the national building code. When a section of the facility was engulfed in flames in 2009, seven girls died due to insufficient safety measures.
An investigative commission found that the girls had been on lockdown since the week before the fire because one had tried to escape. Some of the girls alleged that the fire resulted from a police officer throwing tear gas into the room.
• Direct the Department of Correctional Services to immediately cease the practice of lockdown in juvenile correctional facilities;
• Instruct the Child Development Agency (CDA), Jamaica’s children’s homes agency, to immediately remove all children in lockups and redirect them to appropriate places of safety;
• Provide a timeline for the construction of new juvenile facilities; and
• Instruct the minister of health to outline the steps that will ensure the longevity of the CDA so that it operates well and also does its job adequately.
The JFJ manifesto has many salient points. Still, Golding and his government should be acknowledged for how they took appropriate actions in the immediate light of the Armadale Inquiry Report.
For one, the Public Service Commission’s dismissal of June Spence Jarrett, the commissioner of corrections at the time, was an appropriate immediate response to the incident. This move and other follow-up actions show that Golding accepted that provisions in facilities like Armadale were inadequate.
But juvenile remand centers should not be our only concern. There are a number of youth homes where the inhabitants would eagerly welcome much-needed facility improvement.
The initiative by Dwight Nelson, minister of national security, to create outdoor recreational activities at the St. Andrew juvenile facility was another encouraging development. In addition, the government should also be complimented for its intentions to ensure that children on remand are housed in separate facilities from those who have committed crimes. These actions give hope for the future of rehabilitating children and encouraging overall behavior change.
Still, many problems have to be addressed. Five years after JFJ outlined policy recommendations to improve juvenile facilities in a report on the state’s child care system, many of the recommendations have yet to be sufficiently addressed:
The shadow that the Armadale fire leaves is bigger than that day alone. It is a reminder of how Jamaica can grow to realize its Vision 2030 development strategy. The memory of Armadale represents the fight for greater rights in the present age.
We must use the event to honor and remember the victims—and inspire hope for the future of children in Jamaica. Any step to become a developed nation is impossible without a genuine sense of care for the protection of our children.
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