Boys and girls who come into conflict with the law and are placed in Correctional Centers and Remand Homes have been found to be victims of poor parental care and mainly from rural and urban communities of Ghana. 1n 2011 we conducted a sponsored research on the Juvenile Justice System in Ghana which revealed several gaps in the justice delivery for juveniles especially at the re-integration and aftercare phase. With support from REACH FOR CHANGE, we took it up and began a structured re-integration and aftercare programme for discharged juveniles.
We have enrolled 250 discharged boys and their families in the re-integration programme since the beginning of the project in 2011. The ages of the juveniles in the programme ranged between 16 and 24 years. We deliver various forms of support and services to beneficiaries who are at varying levels of stability and progress.
Over the period we have built the capacity of Ghana Prison Service officers in charge of Correctional Centres in Child-Centric Approach to Juvenile Offender Management, Entrepreneurial Skills and Role Model Interactions with Juveniles. We have been advocating on behalf of juveniles quietly at the highest level of the Ghana Prisons Service. With the leadership of Ghana Prisons, we have undertaken to address system change initiatives.
The re-integration programme has impacted on the discharged juveniles and their families in various ways. Close to 55% of the juveniles are stable, while the remaining are at various levels of stability. One person from the first batch of juveniles entered the University in the 2013/14 academic year. He writes the poem below which actually captures the experiences of most of the boys.
“Boom after Gloom”
This is a summary of the unforgettable events of my life. After completing junior high, with no hope of pursuing any further education, life took advantage of me in the wrong way and sent me on a mischievous errand, which landed me in a correctional center. My world was crashed into pieces and left me hopeless. There, where I ate my tears for breakfast and endured bitterness for lunch and confusion for supper; I wept hopelessness as I lay my head each night. I completely forgot that I was even created by a creator through whom nothing is impossible. It was a long sojourn but a week before I was to leave the center His amazing grace was extended to me and sent to me an angel in the guise of an earthly being, a guardian who took away my worries and gave me hope, a hope so real that I still live in it today.
One of the participants (a released juvenile) in our Juvenile Justice Programme, wanted to make following statement:
“My world has completely changed. I came out of correctional centre with the hope of making money quickly. This took me into all kinds of activities for making money without sweat. I was fortunate I was not caught by the law once again. All this was because I could not wait to go through CRRECENT’s reintegration programme. I found it too slow to achieve my aim of making money quickly. CRRECENT was, however, patient with me, each time I fell out they brought me back into the programme. I can confidently say my life has changed and now I am settled in life in decent profession.”
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) specifically for juvenile justice policy and practice:
In 1989 the United Nations resolved to recognise specific children’s rights worldwide. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) came into force in September 1990. The child is defined as anyone under the age of 18 years. The CRC (article 2) entitles every child, ‘without regard to race, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status’, to have resort to 40 specific rights. It advocates special protection for ‘children in conflict with the law’.
The most pertinent articles of the CRC specifically for juvenile justice policy and practice are:
• In all actions concerning children…the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration (article 3)
• State Parties recognise the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly (article 15)
• No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence (article 16)
• No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Article 37 a)
• No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time (Article 37 b)
• Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child’s best interest not to do so … (Article 37 c)
• Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action (Article 37 d).
• States Parties recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child’s respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society (Article 40 (1).
• States Parties shall seek to promote the establishment of laws, procedures, authorities and institutions specifically applicable to children alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law, and, in particular: (a) The establishment of a minimum age below which children shall be presumed not to have the capacity to infringe the penal law; (b) Whenever appropriate and desirable, measures for dealing with such children without resorting to judicial proceedings, providing that human rights and legal safeguards are fully respected (Article 40 (3)
(John Muncie; Professor of Criminology, The Open University)