Is our justice and correctional system failing juvenile delinquents and underage offenders?
While juvenile delinquency is on the rise, it appears that our prisons, our penal and judicial system is not adequately catering for these situations.
TVM discussed this with Commissioner for Children, Pauline Miceli.
Figures show that from January to date, seven individuals below the age of 18, five male and two females, ended up in jail. Their ages ranged between 14 and 17 years.
Commissioner Pauline Micel, said that the Courts too were reluctant to award custodial sentences in situation such as these.
“They are given one or two chances. But I myself have been present at the juvenile court when you have cases of teenagers who are repeat offenders, who violate the conditions of their punishments and who don’t try to improve the situation.”
She said that in such cases the court can not do much in the absence of an apposite therapeutic institution in lieu of prison. The new law on the protection of minors has come into force in recent days calling for the creation of a therapeutic centre for troubled children.
Adolescents serve their custodial sentences in the Yours facility in Imtaħleb designed for young prisoners up until the age of 21.
“The worst scenario are the 14 year olds because at that age they are much more impressionable and I do not think that they should be allowed in the same room as the rest. They are meant to be kept in separate rooms and given even more attention. We would like to see this being put into practise. We still lag behind in terms of quality hight standard services. ”
Mrs Miceli said that most common crimes among minors were theft, drugs, cyberbullying other children or dissemination of confidential photographs while noting an increase in the case of violent behavior.
“If you commit a crime against a family member, against a caregiver, then you can’t be given a custodial sentence until therapy is provided to the entire family.”
She stated that in the eyes of the law minors ought to be treated differently even in terms of the correctional process.
‘International institutions don’t recommend sending young people to prison for a long period. In fact the punishment always decreases because of their age and we believe that a short term is important and where possible we also believe that while children are in prison, they are provided with therapeutic services and educational services. ‘
Ms Miceli believes that cases involving persons under 18 years, ought to be heard more discreetly by the juvenile court and not in the Magistrate’s Court in Valletta.