Caribbean Basin Security Initiative Juvenile Justice Assessment
January 15, 2013
Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
All Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states have ratified the Conventions of the Rights of the Child (CRC), which are the global standards that uphold preventative, protective, and rehabilitative principles guaranteeing the rights of children to a safe environment. Though the existing juvenile justice systems in member states suffer from significant deficiencies, member state juvenile justice reform programs and efforts all model an effort to adopt or adhere to elements of this rights-based approach. To varying degrees, these countries have sought to:
- Upgrade laws from punitive, pre-independence models to a rights-based legislative framework that supports the best interests of the child;
- Integrate CRC-recommended age definitions by raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12 and standardizing the age of majority at 18;
- Decriminalize behavioral issues among youth by introducing child diversion programs and, in some jurisdictions, eliminating status offenses;
- Develop specialized courts, policing responses, sentencing options, and correctional methods for children to better investigate and address the wider social and developmental factors that trigger each child’s offending;
- Upgrade correctional and remand facilities to provide a rehabilitative environment that supports the developmental and participatory rights of children; and
- Develop, directly and in partnership with civil society, programs that engage and support high-risk children and families and stem delinquency.
Nevertheless, the pace of reform efforts is staggered and at times in conflict with “tough on crime” approaches to rising rates of youth delinquency. Status offenses, low benchmarking of ages of criminal responsibility and majority, punitive approaches to law enforcement, and the underfunding of juvenile justice remain persistent. As a result, Caribbean lock-ups, correctional centers, and adult prisons retain a higher than desirable number of child inmates without addressing the root causes of juvenile crime and resulting high rates of recidivism.
The political impetus to change in the Caribbean is hampered by the low level of priority often afforded to children’s programming combined with the desire of political actors to be seen as championing causes that are supported by a large population of voters. The Assessment team found that even in countries in which the national thrust for juvenile justice reform is strong, change is hindered by the high cost of implementation, slow pace of legislative reforms, and an often fragmented approach to the administration of juvenile justice.