OVER the past two years or so the government has been placing much emphasis on the implementation of its social programmes to better cater to the needs of the less fortunate and marginalized citizens in the community.
And now, the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice and Empowerment are advocating to make provisions for post-rehabilitation care and accommodation for past wards of the Boys Training Centre (BTC) and also former selective prison inmates.
But firstly, noted Equity Minister Joachim Henry, Cabinet has to approved plans for the construction of a new Juvenile Centre, and a “technical committee” has held productive meetings with the architects to discuss the matter.
Henry said, the department was not only proceeding on the suggestions of the ministry as to how a juvenile centre should be planned , but will hold a wide range of discussions with key stakeholders on the matter.
“We have visited a few juvenile centres across the region and we are aware that persons do have (separate) issues …and challenges, and therefore we do not want to copy what someone else has,” he told reporters, at a media briefing, this week.
“We want to do what’s best for our people and therefore that technical committee is very broad and all critical stakeholders are represented,” he noted.
The minister added that the technical committee has held discussions with the architects, in terms of “solving the problems of a new juvenile centre …in terms of its design, as they put together both its processes and operations”. Matters concerning the “legality” of the juvenile centre will also be include in the plans.
For instance, noted Henry, “We have to deal with the issues of a juvenile centre …because we have two sets of wards that we cater for – those who are in conflict with the law, as well as, those who are there for care and protection.”
He said, the current state of the structure known as the Boys Training Center “is not good”, since no provisions are made for separate quarters to adequately cater for the diverse wards. The minister explained, “So, there is a contamination of the wards, in terms of dealing with issues, and we want to separate that and the (new) design must seek to speak of that in more specific terms …design, staffing and otherwise.”
Henry disclosed that the former George Charles Secondary School will be “cleaned up” and utilized for this facility.
The minister said, the staffing arrangements across the island’s juvenile centres will also be reviewed, to look at “how effective we can be with our resources as it relates to taking care of our wards and our juveniles.”
He also commented in the wider context, on the issue of former wards and inmates who have served their time and have difficulty in accessing gainful employment.
Henry noted that it was important “to reintegrate persons into society”, since persons deserve another ‘shot at life’ and an opportunity to make amends and begin afresh.
He contended that, just as in politics where persons are given a second chance to be reelected as parliamentarians, so too, “If a person has an altercation with the law, I feel our society must provide the person with an opportunity to rehabilitate.
The minister informed that support has been requested to construct “studio apartments for the wards who have come of age and who have to leave the Boys Training Centre”. He said, it is imperative, to “provide housing for them in a way that they can get time to settle, as against throwing them out and they go back to the same environment that led them to where they were, in the first place”.
He said, a duplex structure has been built in a rural Castries community for that purpose and later on “to see how we could build homes for the few wards we have” that have served their time and to give them an opportunity “to get back into society”.
Henry feels that housing is “an area that is needed for persons who really do not have a place to stay …you leave prison and you do not have a place to stay.” He said the matter also affects some single mothers, young men and women, and so, in addition to giving preference to specific cases, it was important to give these young people an opportunity to reintegrate into society.
Meanwhile, included in these social assistance endeavours is the Income Support Programme, which was launched in September. According to the ministry, the programme will cater for approximately 5,000 persons who would each receive a $1,500 one-time payout.
To date, the minister reported, a total of 952 persons have applied for assistance and by “mid-month” payments would be made to at least 1,200 individuals.
“These individuals have been processed and they have been verified by the National Insurance Corporation [NIC] that these persons have qualified for support,” he said.
Henry listed out the applicants, as follows; Anse La Raye – 278, Canaries – 48, Castries – 1, 214, Choiseul – 84, Dennery -131, Gros Islet – 384, Laborie – 109, Micoud -219, Soufriere – 495, Vieux Fort -290
The minister said, the department would also be utilisng the skills of its 10 social welfare officers and also a “town crier” to reach out to more persons in the communities, particularly those who may feel “intimidated” with filling in the application forms.
“They will be heading to the constituency offices …to speak to (those) persons working there, to empower them and to guide them,” he explained. Other government personnel from the relevant ministries are also being urged to assist in reaching out to people who may qualify for assistance.
Henry disclosed that the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) has been requested to increase the lending quota. “They (CDB) have allowed us to use USD10 million for a more aggressive campaign …so we are encouraging persons to apply,” he said, by making use of the digital devices and going online to register for social assistance.
He added, “To get online and let us move this forward…the resources are there to benefit persons who have not received (assistance) and therefore, we want them to take advantage of this programme.”