Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Monday | September 28, 2009
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Life after Armadale

Garth Rattray

Victoria (not her real name) didn't wish for a child suffering from attention-deficit hyper-activity disorder (ADHD) with the common concomitant concentration, memory, learning and behavioural problems. She didn't wish for a broken marriage, and she certainly didn't want that situation to so adversely affect her troubled daughter that she routinely disappeared from home and school and repeatedly got into fights necessitating prolonged suspensions from classes.

She didn't want her child's behaviour to lead to medical assessment and treatment, but it did; and she didn't want her financial and tireless efforts to go in vain, but they did. Her daughter's persistent truancy, disappearances and fighting (uncontrol-lable behaviour) landed her briefly into a place of safety and into the courts where she was sent home for a two-year supervised intervention period. Failure to comply eventually landed her in the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre.

Because of the deadly fire at that centre, the transfer of her daughter from there to the Stony Hill facility, the violence there, and then another transfer to the Horizon institution, Victoria sought and was granted 'licence' for the (premature) release of her daughter back into her care. But, several things have occurred that have left Victoria feeling confused, helpless, stressed and frustrated.

Victoria has seen absolutely no change in her troubled daughter in spite of an entire year at a so-called 'correctional facility'. Her daughter has resumed her violent ways (on the second day of her new school) and has run away again. The child has charged that, at Armadale, they were sometimes treated badly by the staff. She said that, in her opinion, the caretakers were trained to deal with prisoners, not with kids and that some staff members told them that if their parents wanted them, they would not be there.


Her daughter said that if a ward decided not to go to school, she could stay in the dorm all day. She said that there were quite a few repeat offenders because many girls left no better off than when they came in and several of them preferred a life where they didn't have to do anything if they didn't want to. Now, back at home after a year at Armadale, Victoria wished that her daughter had learnt discipline, duty and responsibility. She understands why there is so much recidivism when she sees her child's inability to deal with her troubled life.

The inquiry into the deadly Armadale fire has enlightened the nation regarding the despicable and unsafe conditions under which staff and wards worked and lived. Our various advocacy groups and concerned individuals have lobbied for the humane treatment of wards for nought. The Government often wastes vital resources on frivolity, on refurbishing offices and residences, and on poorly conceived ideas, while their moral responsibility to our nation's troubled youth is woefully neglected. Pleas of ignorance follow one excuse after another. Once again, the faceless, nameless system remains unaccountable and untouchable. I wager that no one will be charged for the conditions that led to the fire.

At a loss

Victoria doesn't know where else to turn. Now, she has been instructed by a probation officer that she must (somehow find the money and time from work to) have her child reassessed even though she spent all that time in a 'correctional centre'. Her daughter's behaviour has worsened and she wonders why the State takes in troubled children when our under-funded, under-equipped, under-staffed, overcrowded and failed rehabilitative institutions don't seem to do the children, the families or the society any good.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with family practice. Feedback may be sent to garthrattray@gmail.com or columns@gleanerjm.com.

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