WHEN then 13-year-old *Sophie was placed at the South Camp Juvenile Correctional and Remand Centre for Girls for committing aggravated assault, she cried everyday for weeks.
The 18 months she was ordered to spend at the juvenile centre seemed like an eternity of misery, but now she is grateful for the experience and the way it helped to turn her life around.
Although the adjustment to her new surroundings was initially tough, her time at the juvenile facility and the support she received from staff of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) proved to be invaluable to her life.
“Things started turning around for me there because of the staff. I remember when I started at the school there, teachers encouraged me because I had potential and they just told me to do my best,” Sophie explains in an interview with JIS News.
She completed her time at the juvenile centre with three Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects, but encountered difficulty in her reintegration into society.
“Before I left the facility, I always said I would change, but when I got home, I was just rushing to do everything, as I wanted to use my freedom… so I would leave home without getting permission and go to parties,” she recounts.
An intervention came from the maths teacher from the juvenile centre, who helped her to enrol in another high school. Her former wardens sought help for her to sit four additional CSEC subjects and a City and Guilds examination.
Sophie is the first recipient of a $100,000 educational grant under the Ministry of National Security’s ‘We Transform‘ programme to cover her tuition as she pursues four Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) subjects in sixth form, where she is focused on business subjects.
The funds were provided through support from FamFun Entertainment Limited.
Sophie says she is grateful for the financial assistance and the support to reintegrate into society.
“If I didn’t go to South Camp, I don’t know where all the help I got would come from. Maybe I wouldn’t be in the position I am in right now. Everything happens for a reason; I regret what I did, and I am grateful for what has happened to me as a result of the rehabilitation received through the DCS,” she tells JIS News.
Launched in 2017, the We Transform programme focuses on facilitating the rehabilitation and reintegration of youth offenders who were placed in the four juvenile remand centres.
It targets over 200 children between the age of 12 and 17 in the facilities as well as youth offenders monitored by the island’s 16 community service (probation) offices.
The programme’s first phase concentrated on engaging youth in academics, vocational education, and health and wellness activities, including workshops on sexual and reproductive health as well as substance abuse.
Minister of state in the National Security Ministry, Rudyard Spencer, says the transition from childhood to young adulthood can be a challenging period; therefore, programmes such as We Transform are important.
“Many of our youths continue to face environmental, social and family conditions that hinder their personal development and successful reintegration in the economy and society. The intention is to stimulate prosocial values, attitudes and behaviour among our unattached youth,” he points out.
He adds that this approach will re-socialise antisocial mindsets and promote respect for self, others and community.
Minister Spencer says the ministry will continue to work assiduously to create and support targeted social-intervention programmes designed to prevent youth from seeking refuge in crime.
We Transform Programme Manager Ella Ghartey says the initiative is important in giving youth offenders a second chance.
“Through the many rehabilitative programmes, all of the children in State care are engaged in purposeful activities such as education, skills training among others,” she points out.
Meanwhile, Ghartey is calling on corporate Jamaica to support We Transform as it moves into the second phase, which will focus on similar support such as that provided to Sophie.
“We are inviting Jamaicans to assist us in providing educational grants and internship/job placements. Additionally, an organisation can adopt a child to provide critical financial and emotional support,” the programme manager urges.
*Change of name used to protect the identity of the individual.