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September 1, 2016 | Feature Article

Re -Thinking Juvenile Justice Delivery In Ghana : Crrecent Setting The Pace ?

My excitement and joy at reading the news item published by ghanaweb.com last saturday 27 August 2016 on the subject of a sod cutting event relating to the construction of a Juvenile Justice Centre at Dodowa in the Greater Accra region , by Crrecent - Child Research and Resource Center are unmeasurable , given the event presented as the dream of effective , efficient , evidence -based , best international practice standards and credible juvenile justice delivery system may see day light in this country

This feeling emanates from my age old professional concerns about the challenges that seemingly confront the juvenile justice delivery in our country - Ghana, juxtaposed with the rather lukewarm ,irresponsible and lack of acknowledgement and understanding of the phenomenon of juvenile offending b by our governments over the years , with the complicity of civil bureacrats ,policy makers and society in general

The minister for lands and natural resources Nii Osae Mills's call for a much more serious focus on effective and efficient juvenile justice delivery in our country ,is a clear indictment of the systemic failures and institutional neglect and abuse of the fundamental human rights of those children who are caught up within the criminal justice - juvenile justice system by the so called powers that be, given no pragmatic and prudent efforts have ever been made to address juvenile justice delivery challenges holistically at any time

The lip services ,political rhetorics and professional neglect the latter stemming from stake holder jealousies ,ignorance and shirk of statutory responsibilities have colluded in denying children and young persons who come into conflict with the law, their rights to child protection and safeguard

The difficulty in my assessment has been the lack of the basic knowledge and understanding of the fact that such children and young persons , who constitute the marginalised,vulnerable and socially excluded citizens are children in need

Need of protection and safeguard from the numerous socio - economic forces and society's structural order that are responsible for their criminogenic needs inclusive of socio -economic disadvantages

Indeed, what appears not to have been grasped by many ghanaian political and bureaucratic elites yet is the basics of juvenile justice ,as an intergral feature of any criminal justice delivery system ,being a compromise between the justice model of criminology and that of the welfarist philosophical approaches

That whereas the justice model - classicist criminology places such emphasis on " punishment fits the crime " philosophy, is retributive in character and nature , the welfarist approach which stems from positivist criminology provides for punishment to be rehabilitative , reintegrative and for resettlement , known in practical criminology as the 3R's

Given the nature of children and young persons, the criminological concensus has been to offer support, assistance and empowerment for them to develop the relevant and appropriate pro social skills in addressing their perceived criminogenic needs and position them to live fulfilled and offence free lifestyles as useful citizens of their individual communities

As positivist criminological approaches and indeed the welfarist ethos of punishment provide the framework for rehabilitation, reintegration and resettlement to children and young persons , the latter will always require the support , relevant and appropriate interventions of adults - governments policy makers , trained and qualified practitioners, in achieving or realising their full potentials if recidivism is to be kept at bay , public protected and community safety guaranteed

The implications are multi dimensional and require a sense of professional commitment , drive , focus ,dedication , professional seriousness and holistic rethink based on clear appreciation ,acknowledgement and understanding of child developmental and criminogenic needs and not political jingoism ,rhetorics ,play to the gallery and empty promises

The twin legislations of the childrens' act 1998 and the juvenile justice act 2003, draw significantly on the spirit of the UNCRC article 40 ,which defines the fundamental welfare principles of the rights of the child being paramount in all circumstances at all times

The echoes or resonances of this legal provisions is underscored by the UN Minimum Standard for the treatment of children and young persons who commit offences and come to the attention of juvenile justice systems globally- that is custody to be the last resort and that non custodial measures or disposals be made available in responding to minor offences committed by children and young people

These legislative frameworks no doubt are important and relevant indexes for the measurement of the quality of services provided and delivered to those children who come into conflict with the laws of the state

Yet these legislations are no longer fit for any meaningful purposes , in so far as they have become archaic , anarchronistic , superflous and do not really meet the welfare ,protection and safeguard needs of our children and young people in this 21st century

Although Ghana's Juvenile Justice legislation provides for diversion of juveniles from custody, through the provision of a probation order disposal , but in practical terms, such a probation order , lacks the main features and character of a statutory probation order as it applies in international practices of best practice standards

For in our country unlike most others ,Ghana's juvenile justice probation order is no better than a conditional discharge , given it does not incorporate any intervention programmes , schemes and initiatives in assisting ,supporting and empowering the juvenile offenders to address their criminogenic needs within a specified structure of programmes and activities

Juvenile offenders are not offered the desired framework with community supervision plans for the professional supervision of their court orders as pertains in best international practice globally , rather they are left most probably to their own negative devices , risking reoffending or recidivism. Indeed , they are set up by the system to fail

Strangely ,given the failure of the system in devising a much more professional mechanisms in monitoring juvenile offenders, recidivism or reoffending rates may be a challenge to measure especially in the face of the problems of the propensity to change names at will ,age determination , adequate and realistic records keeping and management in our system

The diversionary provisions of the legislation has not made avaiable any systems for diversion from prosecution as should have been the case, with the net effects of so many juveniles being uneccessarily processed through the juvenile justice system, although the evidence based practicec and international practice concensus is that delaying children and young people from entry into the criminal justice system the best and positive means of reducing their risks of ever involving in anti social behaviour or criminality

The lack or failure to devise early intervention initiatives , schemes and programmes at least by way of crime awareness and education strategies in the schools and the communities in my considered view is a professional worry and concerns and a huge challenge to both governments and practitioners

Our juvenile justice delivery system does not in any way offer the needed credible , pragmatic and professional intervention support , supervision and management of those juvenile offenders who end up in the senior correction centre

What is really bizzare and strange and happens only in Ghana's practice is for such juvenile offenders , being left in the hands of prison officers trained for the supervision and management of adult prisoners

These officers seem to lack the adequate professional training , knowledge ,skills, expertise and experience in child development and the understanding of the causation of juvenile offending behaviour let alone being in apprecuation of assessing the crimonogenic beeds of their inmates

In best practice , managing and supervising juvenile offenders in custody should and must be undertaken within the context of sentence planning , a basic tool that is not utilised in our senior correction centre

There is no evidence of any one to one counselling sessions , groupwork or specialised therapeutic intervention strategies such as drugs, alcohol, cognitive behaviour modification ,anger management ,psycho-social therapeutic work being undertaken with the inmates

Yet ,management is too ready to shoot down or frustrate any independent approaches to assist the centre develop such relevant and important services as the frameworks in promoting rehabilitation and reintegration of these children and young people ,under the misguided illusion that the centre already have such framework in place

I really cannot get this one except to believe it was an act of professional territorial defence ,display of empty ego , jealousy , naivety and ignorance much to the detriment of the duty of care for the inmates who require this intervention support for any meanibgful rehabiliation and of course the preparation towards reintegration on release

It might have been prudent for this weird claim by the management of the senior correction centre to have been fully investigsted ,in establishing to state of the levels of intrrvention schemes and initiatives at tge disposal of these juveniles who deserve our all to turn their lives around in becoming law abiding and useful citizens of society

The conceptual methodology of reintegration strategies will require better appreciation and understanding than what the current practices are , if the future of the inmates are to ensure and promote non recidivism and prevent reoffending by all standards

Continous behavioural assessment of inmates by personal officers ( they do not exist and attempts at suggestions are resisted though ) matched against a devised sentence plan will have to be given some serious priorities

Multidisciplinary work with those other agencies or professionals and families , who are themselves stakeholders for the promotion of offence free lifestyles of the juveniles especially on release from the�� centre will have to be placed at the heart of any meaningful service provisions and delivery

Credible, effective and efficient juvenile justice delivery the world over , do not end up in or at the gates of correction centres

It is best practice to involve as much stakeholders as practicable , undertake credible pre release and post release assessments vital for devising support systems for the promotion of reintergration and resettlement back into respective communities as neccessary and this is achievable only if the correction centre management understands the basic principle of working together within the context of multi agency networking

Importantly , it has to be acknowledged that reintergrationn and resettlement of juvenile offenders are much more of the responsibility of governments although no harm can be caused if voluntary agencies , charities and non governmental organisations are ready to throw in their dice as Crrecent has already been doing all these years

This is one of the surest positive means of demonstrating commitments to the protection and safeguard of juvenile offenders , as it offers them the rays of hope for new lives ,new beginnings and the determination to live law abiding lifestyles as responsible family members and and useful citizens of their communities

Undoubtedly, a juvenile justice centre of the kind being envisaged by Crrecent should be providing the framework and the opportunities in closing up those yawning gaps in service provisions and delivery to those children and young people who experience marginalisations ,disadvantages and vulnerabilities , ending 7up in the grips of a criminal and juvenile justice system that has no credible clues as to their supervision and management

However , Crrecent has set the ball rolling and will require the support and encouragement of all of us especiablly those who really think and believe the future of our country rests on the shoulder of our children and young people of today

It may be prudent for other stakeholders , charities, voluntary organisations , banks and other corporate institutions especially , to pick this venture up as a challenge of an avenue or opportunity of their corporate responsibilities for the promotion of a safer community whilst promoting the welfare and best interest of the Ghanaian child in need .

*The author , a Penal Reform Advocate is the Executive Director of OMRO, Executive member of Penal Reform Consortuim ( Ghana ) and Offender Management & Rehabilitation Consultant who is contactable via 00233 248416287 / 00447957386292

Marcus-Chris Lawson
Marcus-Chris Lawson

Marcus-Chris Lawson has authored 63 publications on Modern Ghana.
Read more from the author's publications column : MarcusChrisLawson

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Marcus-Chris Lawson and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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