Police and prison officers were celebrated at the Police Training School on Wednesday for completing a three-day training session on juvenile justice reform.
Sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission, 50 participants were in attendance for the closing ceremony.
Representative for the OECS Commission and technical specialist for the juvenile justice reform project, Gloria Augustus in her address, said that police officers should be part of the solution, not the problem, in tackling youth delinquency.
“You have been given the opportunity and training to understand how best to address youth crime, youthful offenders and why the young justice system is different from the adult system and be part of the solution that works, not sabotage it,” she said.
Augustus commended Antigua and Barbuda for being one of the pioneers in the new programme and called on other OECS countries to do the same.
“Antigua and Barbuda must be commended for taking the right step to have a youth intervention unit of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, which is dedicated to dealing with risky behaviours of children under the age of 18. Other member states, I dare say, should follow,” she said, adding that the juvenile justice system is “complex, multi-disciplinary, and it requires all people and institutions in contact with young people to understand and be supportive of the reform.”
She encouraged officers to make their “promises turn into prophecies.”
“I urge you to be the change that you want to see and follow through on what you would have promised to do after this training and continue to educate yourself on juvenile justice matters,” she said.
In his address, Acting Commissioner of Police Atlee Rodney challenged officers to put into practice what they learnt in the programme.
“This piece of legislation and this training that you have been receiving, is giving [people] a second chance, a chance where they can make a difference in the society. So, my challenge to us as police officers and prison officers [is to take] the information that we have received, we should restore it, remember it, but also, practise it so we can make a difference in the lives of young people,” he said.
He thanked the representative of the OECS Commission for her hard work and dedication and said that the youth are the future. He also encouraged the officers to play their role to restore and reintegrate the youth into society.
“Whatever they (youth) become, we will either profit from it or we will pay the price,” he said, adding, “let us see what we [police officers] can do to change the lives of young [people], whenever they fall through the cracks. To the prison officers, you have a role not only to keep them confined as the need may be sometimes, but also to restore them so they can go back into the society and make a meaningful contribution.”
During the closing ceremony some participants shared their experiences and benefits they derived from the three-day training programme.
One of them, Corporal Walter said police officers must be willing to listen to young people to understand where they come from.
“The regulation also gives the youth a voice, so we must listen. We cannot go as before where we say they are just rude kids and we just act on that. The regulation is saying now we must listen to the kids, we must understand where they are coming from. And if we understand where they are coming from, then we are better equipped to deal with the situation,” he said.
Alethea Byers, Director of Family and Social Services, expressed the hope that people who received the training will now approach young people differently.
“After this workshop, I hope that everyone involved in the training and sensitisation will never perceive a juvenile, they come in contact with, in the same way and will also consider some of the reasons and circumstances behind their behaviour,” she said.
Over the last three weeks, approximately 130 participants across Antigua and Barbuda have undergone the training programme, including police officers, prison officers, social workers and other stakeholders.