Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | November 25, 2012
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Who was watching the suicidal teen?
Lieutenant Colonel Sean Prendergast
Livern Barrett, Sunday Gleaner Writer

Directly across from the cell in which 16-year-old Vanessa Wint was found hanging last week is a 'staff monitoring area' where security officials are based 24 hours per day. Security officers are tasked with watching and protecting all wards, inmates and workers at the correctional facilities.

However, there is no evidence that any of the guards saw when the child was taking her own life.

A preliminary report from the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has already been sent to the minister of national security, but there is no explanation yet for this breakdown in the security operations at the prison.

Head of the DCS, Lieutenant Colonel Sean Prendergast, told The Sunday Gleaner that there were officers on duty who should have been able to see Vanessa before she killed herself.

"They were not relying on cameras or anything; it was just straight view," disclosed Prendergast late last week.

He said statements have been collected from all the officers who were on duty at the time, but declined to comment further.

"There are many aspects of the investigations that have to be thoroughly questioned and probed and that is what will happen in due course," said Prendergast.

Not surprised

The teen's mother, Simone Wint, was not surprised by the latest revelation.

"Several times I've been to see her and there was no one in there ... no one," she said in reference to the staff monitoring area.

In the meantime, Prendergast said the teen had a "violent incident" with another ward of the state on the day she died.

He said the superintendent in charge of the prison made a decision to separate them and placed the teen in a cell by herself.

According to Prendergast, the cell was stripped of sheets, excess clothing and all non-essential items.

However, he said Vanessa was able to get possession of another sheet from an adjoining cell.

"The investigation will determine whether it was given to her by another juvenile or whether she reached across from her own cell and dragged it off the bedding of the adjoining cell," he said.

"She was not seen receiving that sheet and she was not seen when she was originally positioning herself to take the action she is seeming to have taken. So that is a question that we now have to find out," he added.

The commissioner of corrections revealed that Vanessa had been in the juvenile system since 2009 and that her file is "very thick".

He said she was released from custody on the authority of the minister of national security "at one stage", but was taken back after breaching the conditions of her release.

According to Prendergast, Vanessa's final stint in the correctional system started last June when she was taken before the Family Court and given a correctional order for being "uncontrollable".

He claims that the decision to place Vanessa in the custody of the State was authorised by her mother.

"The records that I have is that she was picked up by the police for carrying an offensive weapon. She was taken before the courts and in the deliberations at the Family Court, she was deemed uncontrollable and her mother authorised her incarceration," he said.

No excuse

Her mother has admitted that she authorised her daughter's incarceration because of the uncontrollable behaviour.

But that is no excuse or comfort for the grieving woman.

"Even so, I had given them my child for them to care and protect. So for her to turn up dead now, this doesn't justify any of it," she said.

"The State promised to care and protect her until she was 18 (years old) she would have come back home ... not for her to be dead right now," she added.

The family of the dead teenager has also taken issue with some of the comments made by Prendergast since her death.

"Vanessa is a minor and her privacy should be respected and due care taken when communicating with the media," said the family in a statement released last Friday.

"Vanessa's parents are crushed, her family is in turmoil and the utterances by Mr Prendergast reveal a wicked, unjust and unconscionable commissioner of corrections...," the release added.

The family has retained attorney-at-law Pam Whittingham.

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