Security was heightened at the Boys Training Centre (BTC) this week after four wards escaped Tuesday; Social Justice Minister Joachim Henry indicated this much at a press conference Thursday.
As of press time yesterday, three wards were still unaccounted for. One of the four was brought in by a relative.
According to Henry, there are a number of challenges plaguing the facility, one of which is a lack of resources.
“We at the Ministry are aware that four of our wards absconded from the centre and we’re also aware that they are being pursued by the authorities but while that is being done, we need to confirm we are increasing our security at the premises,” Henry said.
“We understand that we’re dealing with older wards… wards who are below 18 are (now) more agile, they’re a lot more intelligent (and) they can abscond. When they were younger it was a lot more difficult so we have that challenge; we will increase the number of security personnel immediately,” he added.
Whilst this is being done, the Ministry is going forward with its plan to repurpose the George Charles Secondary School into a modern, state-of-the-art Juvenile Rehabilitation Centre for both sexes.
Government has assigned an architect for the project, the minister said. Henry visited the site on Thursday along with representatives from the Caribbean Development Bank.
“The redevelopment of our juvenile centre is on its way. We are looking at new legislation. We will present to the attorney general legislation to change or to set up a juvenile centre in the form of a statutory organization (rather) than just being part of government because of the nature of decisions (that) needs to be made on a regular basis,” Henry said, noting that “a statutory organization by (a) board of directors will facilitate that a lot faster.”
According to him, “a lot is being considered at this time… as well as looking at the overhaul in the programmes at the juvenile centre. We will be moving ahead with it, but we will continue to deal with the issue at the current location by increasing security as we have older wards to deal with that are not able to go at Bordelais. We have to try to manage them with the limited resources that we have and that is certainly a challenge.”
Whilst the wards’ escape from the facility created a buzz in certain spheres, Henry emphasized that it is not a maximum security facility.
“It’s not a highly secured area. A juvenile centre is a place where wards are primarily there for care and protection; (it) also takes part of their willingness to be there (and) the majority of the wards are there along those lines. There are about 18 wards totally and maybe just around four who are there because they ought to be at Bordelaise and they do not have the age to be at Bordelaise so when these four move out it’s because they choose to leave. You have security but it’s not a prison,” Henry said.
“Wards can abscond especially if you have certain activities in the area. I’m not surprised sometimes that people would leave or abscond during times like this. This issue is not new, it is happening but of course we have to intensify our security based on the nature of the wards that is now being placed at the training centre,” the minister added.
Despite the latter, Henry said there is no need for individuals to panic.
“I’m not able to say that persons should not be vigilant generally, but I do not think that there is a need for persons to panic. The wards will return—the police will get them and return them but of course we should always be on our guard as there are wards the court will commit to the centre (as) they do not have (the) age to go to the Bordelaise prison,” he said.
As for whether government intends to fast track the move to the George Charles Secondary School in light of what recently occurred, Henry said “we are happy that government has approved the consultancy for the architectural designs; we have an architect on board. We are about to leave to go on the site to look at the logistics and have a conversation as it relates to the other aspect of the redevelopment of this juvenile centre.”
“I’m hoping that when we’re having the consultation the media could be part of the conversation in terms of what it should look like; even wards (can) contribute to that redesign. It’s very important that we have (a) care training centre that speaks to who we are; the challenges that we have as a people and the best way of responding,” Henry said adding that “we will revisit the type of training that is offered.”
The BTC currently offers a number of programmes including auto mechanics, carpentry, joinery and welding. However, Henry noted that “the arts should be part of it… in a new juvenile centre electrical installation and a lot more both for young men and women so that we could continue to invest and equip them with the skillset so they can contribute to society.”