Currently, our criminal justice system is based largely on the punitive approach. For children caught in the system, this approach fails to deter them from a life of crime. There aren’t many options available in the justice system for children to put their lives back on track. In fact, our existing systems treat all children the same whether they are violent offenders, abused children, neglected children, poor children or unhappy children. Since our systems are not set up to address the reasons why children are coming to court, children often reappear in court, some having committed more serious crimes.
While important strides have been made toward the modernisation of the treatment of children in our justice system with the passage of the Children Act 2012, the Children’s Authority Act and the Children’s Community Residences, Foster Homes and Nurseries Act, more needs to be done to give full effect to this package of Children’s legislation.
Moreover, justice policymakers all over the world have new information which shows that a child’s underdeveloped brain has a lot to do with why they may not behave the way society expects them to. Factors such as trauma, poor school performance and parental separation also tend to increase the likelihood of children engaging in delinquency. However, the research also shows that young offenders who receive appropriate interventions will not continue to behave as criminals into adulthood. Taking all of this into consideration, the JCP aims to contribute to the successful implementation of the package of Children’s legislation by ensuring that the Judiciary is fully prepared to use its powers provided to encourage the implementation of rehabilitative and restorative approaches for children in conflict with the law.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) guarantees certain rights to children in conflict with law. Trinidad and Tobago has signed the UNCRC and must therefore adhere to these rights. They include the right to fair treatment in the juvenile justice system, the quick resolution of judicial proceedings and the right to receive the help needed to recover from abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The United States of America has also been working in the Caribbean on issues of citizen safety and security through their Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). Under the CBSI, a Caribbean Juvenile Justice Assessment (CJJA) was conducted to research the status of juvenile justice systems in the Caribbean and also provide a list of priority recommendations for addressing challenges, gaps and opportunities found. According to this report, priority areas for reform included the:
The proclamation of the Children’s package of legislation in Trinidad and Tobago moved this country one step closer to the fulfilling the UNCRC and addressing areas for reform identified in the CJJA. Within this body of legislation, there are more and better “sentencing” options which are better suited to addressing the needs of children in conflict with the law. However, much more needs to be done to ensure that the systems, rules, processes and resources are in place to improve the children services and rehabilitative interventions. The Juvenile Court Project will therefore ensure that all the needed infrastructure is established to achieve the goals of child rehabilitation and restoration in a new Children Court system also to be established under the project.