Honorable Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell
Hon. Delma Thomas, Minister of Social Development, Housing and Community Empowerment
Director General of the OECS, Dr. Didacus Jules
Mrs. Veronica Charles, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Development, Housing and Community Empowerment
Other Government representatives
Representatives of the justice sector
Ladies and gentlemen
It’s an honor to represent the United States Government at today’s ceremony, where a Memorandum of Understanding for the USAID-supported Juvenile Justice Reform Project, or JJRP, will be signed.
Today’s signing reflects the collective commitment of the United States Embassy, the Government of Grenada, and the OECS to provide alternative pathways that support the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of youth in conflict with the law. Under the JJRP, now in its second phase, we have worked with the Ministry of Social Development, Housing and Community Empowerment, and other local partners to support renovation of the Bacolet Juvenile Rehabilitation Center and improve its rehabilitation services. Together, we are establishing a pre-trial diversion program for youth in conflict with the law and a reintegration program which provides opportunities for training and employment upon their release. These are a few of several USAID activities that support youth in conflict with the law and their families.
The JJRP is part of a broader assistance program that the American People are providing to the Government and people of Grenada. In the education sector, the U.S. Government partners with the OECS to improve the reading abilities of students at the Grade K to 3 levels, with more than 360 teachers in Grenada trained and over 6,700 students benefitting from improved reading instruction.
In the environmental sector, our Caribbean Marine Biodiversity program is reducing threats to marine coastal biodiversity in the Grenadine Bank seascape and our Climate Change Adaptation Project is improving the region’s capacity to predict and manage the impacts of climate variability. USAID is also supporting health services to reduce the negative effects associated with Zika infection during pregnancy. In all these ways and more, we enjoy a strong partnership with your country.
Today, we gather to cement a piece of our larger partnership. This MOU symbolizes the importance of the JJRP’s work in Grenada, and the critical partnerships that serve as the foundation for achieving its objectives.
Delinquency, violence, and crime are often complex and controversial issues. The challenges they present require that partners combine expertise and resources to determine the appropriate and relevant solutions based upon evidence and best practices. Hopefully today’s ceremony will provide further impetus to all of us in providing those solutions. The Grenadian government has taken a proactive approach to addressing the needs of youth and their families and I commend you for this commitment and for being a leader in the region.
During the course of this project, Grenada has been instituting reforms and providing lessons learned which can be used by other countries to guide their own child justice reform agendas. For instance, Grenada was an early adopter of the Child Justice Legislation, as well as pre- and post- trial diversion programs. I know you are also trying novel approaches to foster interagency collaboration and to provide the necessary support for youth leaving the Bacolet Rehabilitation Center to be successfully reintegrated back into their families and communities. These are all concrete examples of your leadership in the region and how you have improved the support available to youth and their families.
Our work together is intended to create a better future for youth, who are this country’s greatest asset. Experience has shown that punishment alone does not change offending behavior. In fact, it sometimes reinforces it. The work required to make reform efforts successful is difficult and requires the unyielding efforts of many partners working together. I will share examples of two youth supported through the JJRP.
The first example is about a young man who was sentenced to jail for drug possession at the age of 15 years. Due to child justice reform efforts supported by the U.S. Government, he served two years and three months at a Juvenile Rehabilitation Center instead of in an adult prison. While at the facility, he resumed his studies, developed a love for singing and songwriting, and generally changed his outlook on life. An aspiring fireman, upon his release he volunteered at the Fire Service for eight months. His dream is to one day return to the Juvenile Rehabilitation Center to encourage other youth to stay away from crime. He notes: “My past wasn’t good, but now a lot of people are proud of me. I don’t want to let them down.” The young man continues to be supported by his family, as well as two youth-focused Government ministries, which partner under the project to provide practical assistance to keep him on a positive trajectory.
The second example is about a young lady involved in drug and alcohol abuse who came to the courts after an altercation with a police officer. While in the USAID-supported youth detention facility, she too was able to take advantage of comprehensive academic and vocational training. Upon leaving the Center, she pursued studies in law at a Community College with the goal of becoming a criminal lawyer to help high-needs youth.
Unfortunately, after facing stigma regarding her past from those around her, and accusations of forgetting where she came, she dropped out of the program. You may be surprised that I am sharing this example. However, it shows the challenges faced in programs of this nature. Even when a person appears to be on the right track, there are always competing forces which can set them back and destabilize or derail their progress.
This is why our approach is one of inclusive development in which we partner with families, communities, government, and local stakeholders to develop tools, programs, and support systems to ensure that nobody is left behind. This approach fosters sustainability and moves countries from being recipients to partners, equipped to chart their own future.
These experiences motivate me and, I think most of us in this room, to keep working to improve the opportunities available to youth. I applaud the dedication of all the partners involved in this work and urge your continued commitment as the United States Government restates its own commitment through the signing of this MOU.
We look forward to continuing to partner with Minister Thomas and other partners in government, Dr. Jules and the OECS team, and partners in the international development and NGO sector to push these important reforms ahead. I’m eager to see what can be accomplished and expect great strides towards improved lives for the region’s youth.