Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tackling juvenile injustice in Makeni

By Mohamed Massaquoi and Kevin Hill

Coordinator for the Justice Sector Coordination Office Wednesday disclosed that there are major gaps in the criminal justice system when dealing with juvenile offenders in places outside of Freetown and Bo, where remand homes and approved schools exist. Makini, in the north of Sierra Leone, is one such place.

Sarah Lewis made the statement in an exclusive interview with Concord Times at the Justice Sector Coordination Office (JSCO) Guma building Freetown. She said that JSCO has conducted a survey on the juvenile justice system in the country and Makeni was identified as a place of concern. Many juvenile cases in the city are not properly handled as the township lacked the required facilities to provide proper justice for children who are in conflict with the law.

“There is lack of coordination between the police, prisons and the judiciary in dealing with juvenile justice system. We have decided to organize a seminar for these stakeholders so that juvenile justice can be treated with the seriousness it deserves. We shall be talking about the child rights act, institutional and capacity development among others. We want to bring everybody together because juvenile justice is our major concern”, she said.

In an effort to combat these challenges the JSCO has created a pilot project called Makeni Chain Linked, which will develop greater communication, coordination and cooperation between the police, prisons and the judiciary.

The JSCO have put a manual together to provide training for officers of the Family Support Units so that they will be able to handle cases properly, especially those that deal with juveniles. “One thing that came out clearly during our survey was that Makeni does not have remand home. Therefore, children who are in conflict with the law are put in the same cells with that of adults”, she said. This practice is against the law in Sierra Leone and violates the rights of the juveniles who are placed at greater risk when housed with adults.

The community policing partnership is one of the methods JSCO has embarked upon to ensure that there is a reduction of the crime rate in communities across the country. Lewis further noted that access to justice is another area her organization is working towards as there are still many people, especially in the rural areas, who do not have access to proper justice system. “Over 70 percent of the population relied on traditional justice system therefore, there are plans to review the Local Court Act to strengthen the rule of law” she said.

Makeni Chain Linked is just part of the greater reform of the justice system in Sierra Leone, which hopes to establish a public defender unit, legal aid, witness protection program and to create alternate sentencing to create a more just system while alleviating the burden on Pademba Road Prison. These actions must be taken to strengthen the rule of law in Sierra Leone, to better uphold the human rights of its citizens and to hold accountable those who would violate them.

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