Heartened by the Armadale ruling
EVERY TIME your confidence is shaken in Jamaica’s capacity to survive and grow as a rational, competent and sophisticated state – such as with the recent rash of irrational and brazen bloodletting – something drags you from the brink, or forces a rethink of perceptions. On Monday, it was the ruling by Supreme Court judge Kirk Anderson in favour of six former wards of the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre.
The Armadale Centre in St Ann, on Jamaica’s north shore, gained notoriety seven years ago for the death of seven girls in a fire, which was started when a policeman lobbed a grenade into a room with protesting inmates, setting alight a mattress that was being used as a barricade. The irresponsibility or insensitivity of that action was one thing. But Justice Paul Harrison, who conducted a public inquiry into the affair, unearthed systemic and systematic abuse at the home.
For instance, the makeshift block where the fire took place – which was really a converted office area, measuring 12 feet by 20 feet, was earmarked for five girls. It housed 23 – a decision by the then head of the facility that Justice Harrison described as “uncaring and inhumane”. Further, the educational and psychological development of the girls at Armadale, if not totally neglected, was severely under-served.
Justice Harrison’s inquiry of Armadale, though, was not the first time that the poor and squalid state of either juvenile correction centres, places of safety or children’s homes was brought to the attention of Jamaica. Five years earlier Sadie Keating, a retired civil servant who chaired a four-member review into these facilities, arrived at similar conclusions, including cases of sexual abuse and predatory behaviour against children. The Keating review came because of the persistence of one would-be adopter who observed the behaviour of a toddler, who she hoped to adopt, simulating sex with other children.