Anger management issues have been identified as one of the root causes of the high rate of juvenile offending in this country.
The Judiciary’s court executive administrator Master Christie-Anne Morris-Alleyne made the statement while addressing an inquiry into the feasibility of widening the availability of non-custodial penalties in the criminal justice system, hosted by a Joint Select Committee of Parliament on Finance and Legal Affairs yesterday.
Speaking from her experience from the Family and Children Division, Morris-Alleyne said she was struck by the fact that many juveniles are “so angry”.
“I have seen anger and embarrassment, with embarrassment comes a defence mechanism which causes the anger to grow,” Morris-Alleyne said, as she called for a national conversation on children to be considered by Parliament.
Stating that there were too many children before the courts, Morris-Alleyne pointed to statistics from when the division was established in 2016.
She said while the Judiciary expected approximately 1,500 cases to come before the division within its first year, it received one-third of the figure within the first two to three months.
“For a society as small as ours that does not augur well,” she said.
Despite the high rate, Morris-Alleyne still maintained that the division was fulfilling its mandate and is an example of the positive use of non-custodial sentencing.
She noted that in the division prison sentences are an absolute last resort with a focus on counselling, peer resolution and community service.
‘We would need to do everything we can to ensure we give a child a real possibility of turning around,” Morris-Alleyne said, as she noted that between ten to 15 per cent of juvenile offenders would re-offend.
While the Judiciary staff were proud of their successes, they stated that the issue of a lack of community residences to house juvenile offenders, who have to be removed from their homes, is a major hindrance to the smooth running of the system.
“Sometimes a 16-year-old boy with issues of mental illness is placed with ordinary children that are orphans. That mix is not healthy,” Carlene Cross, the Children Court administrator said while answering questions from members of the JSC chaired by Independent Senator Sophia Chote, SC.
While answering questions from Government Senator Clarence Rambharat over the non-custodial sentences available for adult offenders, Morris-Alleyne admitted that the current system was less than desirable.
She claimed that while community service orders are encouraged the system of facilitating them is cumbersome due to staffing constraints. Morris-Alleyne also suggested that the introduction of a system of parole for inmates is necessary.
“We cannot as a country just keep incarcerating people,” she said.
She noted that there was some success with the Drug Treatment Court but that it was hampered by delays by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) in recommending cases to it.
However, she did not blame the DPP’s Office as she admitted that it too was “swamped with work”.
Asked for her views on non-custodial sentences for persons charged with possession of small amounts of marijuana, Morris-Alleyne gave her personal view on the contentious issue.
“I don’t think it is something we should be locking people up for,” she said.
Yesterday’s sitting was the first time Judiciary staff have been allowed to appear before a parliamentary committee after protocols were established to facilitate same.