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Juvenile detention harmful

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ATTORNEY-General Johannes Tomana last week said putting children behind bars was counter–productive hence there was need to come up with a programme to rehabilitate offenders outside prison walls.

STAFF REPORTER

Speaking during the launch of the pre-trial diversion programme designed to offer minors a second chance in life last Friday, Tomana said meting out harsh punishment like imprisonment would harden deviant tendencies in the children.

“Adolescents typically undergo a rebellious and defiant period while still maturing. Most will outgrow their deviance and assume more responsible roles as they become older. Overreacting to juvenile delinquency may, therefore, be counterproductive and reinforce deviant tendencies,” Tomana said.

Life in prison, Tomana said, was not conducive for young people as they risked contracting HIV due to the sexual abuse that was rife in prison cells.

“Incarceration of juveniles in police cells and prisons, apart from the fact that these institutions are already overcrowded, may lead to worsening problems, emotional damage, contact with hardened offenders and risk of contracting the HIV virus if sexually assaulted while imprisoned,” he said.

He added that imprisonment would in the long run alienate them from their communities and there was need to appreciate that some of the juveniles ended up in prison due to factors beyond their control.

“Often they are victims of harsh socio-economic circumstances, abuse, violence or neglect, which propel them into deviant actions,” Tomana said, adding that most of them would outgrow their deviance and assume more responsibility.

The pre-trial diversion programme would ensure offending youths did not go through the court processes, but some form of disciplinary action.

Tomana noted that most of the juvenile offences were minor, such as shoplifting or vandalism, and the young people could be easily influenced to be responsible through non-punitive and retributive strategies.

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