“The mission of the Grand Bacolet Juvenile Rehabilitation and Treatment Centre is to provide treatment and other rehabilitative services within a safe and secure environment that enables youth to develop skills and competencies and to reach their potential as valuable citizens.”
Those were the words uttered last week Wednesday by Social Development Minister, Delma Thomas, during a special ceremony signaling the official opening of the facility at Grand Bacolet in St. Andrew.
The much-needed facility was declared open without a tentative date given for the commencement of operations.
However, Minister Thomas noted that the opening of the juvenile centre signals the beginning of a “new era, where our society has a more reasonable and compassionate approach” to the issue of juvenile justice.
“What we have been doing before was an official policy of youth abandonment,” she said, adding, “from this day on let this era come to a dramatic end.”
The female minister stated that “the centre would be guided by the following principles: All young people housed or receiving services at the Bacolet centre are entitled to a safe and secure environment, living conditions that meet legal requirements, privacy and dignity, programmes and services that meet their educational and gender, and age related needs, adequate health services and recreation facilities.”
Noting that the “other islands (within the OECS) are hoping to use this centre as the model to help develop their own juvenile rehabilitation system,” Minister Thomas declared that, “We are pleased to be the leading model for juvenile justice in the Eastern Caribbean.”
The opening ceremony was attended by a delegation representing the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which made a significant contribution to the juvenile justice reform project in the Caribbean.
In addressing the gathering, USAID Mission Director for the OECS and Barbados, Christopher Cushing disclosed that approximately US$700, 000 have been extended to support reform efforts in Grenada’s juvenile justice sector, which included exposing juvenile justice officials to child-centered techniques, tools, and modern approaches to improve care and treatment of vulnerable youth.
“Another achievement of the project was the development of a model Child Justice Bill for the OECS with Grenada being one of three countries to have passed the bill into law, signaling its true commitment to juvenile justice reform,” he said.
OECS Commission, Project Manager, Juvenile Justice Reform, Lyndel Archibald, who was also on hand to witness the historical opening said, while there is need for facilities of this nature, “we also need to ensure that not every child that offends must and should pass through a facility such as this”.
She also cited the need for modernisation in the diversion, detention and rehabilitative processes in the juvenile justice sector,” among other critical components.
“We stress diversion, detention and rehabilitative processes because in the past we have (been) using that facility as a warehouse to pass young persons through a system that further punishes them for being an offender rather than rehabilitating them to a life of a citizen,” Archibald said.
She also made a plea for a change in the attitudes of parents and families of persons who enter these facilities because “often times children in facilities are rejected by their families and their communities and we need to make communities understand that most times when our children offend they don’t do it because they want to offend, but because of the circumstances within which they live, because of the treatment that they would have received at home and at school”.
“So we need to get everybody onboard to get our children rehabilitated”, she added.
“We need to create systems, which (not) only lock up the few offenders who need to be, and the remainder to be channeled through family focused interventions,” she said.
The opening of the center began out of a growing national concern for the number of young people in the country who need rehabilitative and support services.
The facility is part of the USAID US$ 5.8 million funded OECS Juvenile Justice Reform Project, which sought to strengthen the juvenile justice systems in all six (6) independent member states of the OECS region.
Last week’s opening ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Keith Mitchell who along with Minister Thomas cut the ribbon to declare the centre officially open.
The ceremony was also attended by other government ministers including Parliamentary Representative for the area, Emmalin Pierre, who extended a warm welcome to the gathering, members of the judiciary, as well as residents of surrounding villages.
THE NEW TODAY understands that there are currently 5 juveniles – 4 males and 1 female – housed at the Richmond Hill Prison.
Manager of the Bacolet Centre, Melisse Ogilvie told THE NEW TODAY that she is not in a position to say whether or not these persons would be relocated to Grand Bacolet.
For the last two months the 22 plus staff members at the centre have been engaged in training in preparation for the opening.
The ceremony culminated with a tour of the facility, which puts Grenada in the spotlight, as a leader in the juvenile justice reform process.