Rescuing juvenile offenders - More than 200 youth in conflict with the law set on a new path
For the last five years, guidance counsellor Peter Christie has helped to transform the lives of more than 200 juvenile offenders, and like a proud father, he now gets to watch them make a positive impact on their families and communities.
Christie is one of several case workers under the Organization of American States (OAS)-sponsored programme ‘A New Path’, operating in Jamaica. He is responsible for the reintegration of at-risk youths in Clarendon, Manchester, and sections of St Elizabeth who had served time at a juvenile remand centre.
“When they get in conflict with the law and go to a juvenile facility, a social worker would go in and take the information from them, and then when they are released, based on the situation or the case, and based on the parish they are from, they are assigned a case manager to provide psychosocial support,” Christie told The Sunday Gleaner.
He finds that most of the youngsters he is assigned are from Clarendon. That parish currently has one of the highest murder rates in the country, and Christie believes that poor parenting is one of the main reasons for this.
“We have a lot of youths with behavioural issues. Some of these issues stem from crime in the community along with issues they are facing at school. Some of them got expelled from school based on the situation. Some got into a fight physically and were expelled, while some of them in the community got involved with gangs, smoking marijuana, and so on,” he said.
“A lot of the young males that are in these gangs that are involved in questionable activities are between 13 and 16 years.”
Fortunately, through the ‘A New Path’ programme, many of these at-risk youths now have alternatives to getting involved in criminal activities for their survival. Apart from getting help to get an education, some are also given grants to start a business.
“For a lot of the males, we give them animals to start their own business – like pigs, cows, and goats – and this has changed them completely because they are now focusing on these businesses. Rather than going out on the road and getting into trouble, they are now focusing on these businesses,” he said.
Under the programme, the youths are able to access between $200,000 and $500,000 to start a business. While the males often opt to start a farm, most of the girls generally gravitate towards making a mark in the beauty industry by opening a hairdressing salon.
Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Ambassador Nestor Mendez noted that the ‘A New Path’ programme was an invaluable investment in youths.
“I have had an opportunity to see many projects implemented by the OAS across the Americas, many projects having to do with youth, many projects having to do with vulnerable populations, and I have to tell you that I am very impressed and I have been very moved. I want to congratulate the staff, but most of all, the young people who are participating in these programmes,” said Mendez, while touring the all-female South Camp Correctional Facility in Kingston last year March.
Several youth not making use of opportunity
The ‘A New Path’ Project is implemented by the Department of Public Security of the Organization of American States in collaboration with the Trust for the Americas and with the support of the United States Agency for International Development.
Christie said that the programme is also supported by the Institute of Law and Economy.
The Ministry of National Security officially launched the initiative in 2014, with the expectation that it would enhance the quality of rehabilitation for juvenile remandees at the South Camp and Metcalfe correctional centres. At the time, the OAS had pumped US$1.93 million into the project.
Unfortunately, not all the youths in conflict with the law have made use of the opportunity presented to them despite the best efforts of organisers of the project.
“Some of them that I got back in school, they have stopped attending school and have gone back in the same situation that they were in before. Some of them were killed, and some were displaced from their community,” Christie pointed out.
Still, the guidance counsellor is inspired and feels that a lot of good has come from the project, which is slated to end this month. The report of each of the beneficiaries has been uploaded into a database in order to keep track of the participants.