Moves to strengthen our Jamaica


Monday, April 16, 2018

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St Andrew justices of the peace (JPs) and lay magistrates turned out in numbers to hear Justice Minister Delroy Chuck at our quarterly meeting last week. Custos Dr Patricia Dunwell reminded us of our responsibility to visit prisons, children's homes and infirmaries in our advocacy for humane facilities and said 50 JPs had been trained in conflict resolution and mediation, and 25 in child diversion.

There were kudos for newly appointed Chief Justice Bryan Sykes who is calling for court sessions to begin an hour earlier, similar to our Caribbean neighbours, and other systems for greater efficiency being put in place for “a change from the culture of delay entrenched in Jamaica's justice system”. There will be efforts also to use plea bargaining to decrease the backlog of cases.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck emphasised that the duties of JPs are voluntary, and reminded members that inappropriate actions would be reported to the custos and may result in their being decommissioned. “This is a voluntary calling,” he noted. “No fee is to be charged. We cannot allow those persons who do this to bring the vocation of JP into disrepute.” The minister noted that JPs must be wary of who they recommend, as individuals have been discovered with multiple passports and driver's licences.

Minister Chuck also announced that the upper age limit of 70 years for JP applications has been removed, noting that, after retirement Jamaicans will be able to devote even more time to service. Indeed, earlier in the meeting, there was a hearty round of applause when Una Samms stood strongly to share that she had recently celebrated her 96th birthday! The lower age limit is 25 years.

Training in child diversion should be taken very seriously, noted the minister, wherein an accused youngster can be aided “so they do not go further into a life of criminality”. He warned that when young people enter the prison system they are at risk for “a lifetime of crime” and, indeed, among them there is a high level of recidivism as they become unable to function outside of prison.

The minister also offered free training in mediation to JPs as there was a great need for this in communities and schools. “People will disagree,” he said. “We need to know how to settle our differences peacefully.”

Our mission, he said, “must be to see Jamaica become a better place… become a unifying force for good… address the indiscipline, wrongdoing and chaos, and seek ways and means to stop the rot, as young people are seeing scammers and dons as the ones to emulate”.

There is an overflow of hard-working volunteers in Jamaica. The challenge is to organise ourselves so that we can make the best way forward for our country. It may mean putting our egos aside and looking at ways to merge certain organisations so we can synergise and plan. This could be a great programme for the Social Development Commission and the Council for Voluntary Social Services. To borrow words from Bob Marley, “Let's get together [so Jamaica can be] alright.”

Whirlwind of positivity for special needs

The arrival of Special Olympics International CEO Mary Davis, hosted by the Digicel Foundation, ushered in a whirlwind of positivity for the special needs community last week. We headed out to Lyssons, St Thomas, on Tuesday morning for the opening of the 10th special needs centre in Jamaica, sponsored by the foundation. The enthusiasm of Jaqueline Wilmot Hendricks, site coordinator for Lyssons Special Needs Centre, was contagious as we toured the facilities where there are not only instructions in the basic subjects, but projects that can assist in promoting sustainability. The students proudly showed off large games boards they have painted — checkers, ludo and snakes & ladders — that will go on sale soon.

Later that day, we enjoyed the company of our Special Olympians, their staff led by Lorna Bell and board headed by Alrick “Alli” McNab, and newly appointed state minister of sports Alando Terrelonge — coincidentally brother of emcee and Special Olympics Jamaica board director Paula Pinnock. We watched the Unified Team of Special Olympians and students from Pembroke Hall Primary engage in a game of bocce. It fostered the engagement of students with their intellectually challenged sisters and brothers promoting respect and inclusion.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Sports Minister Olivia Grange received us at Jamaica House and we are looking forward to a Labour Day collaboration with Minister Grange, 'Ramp it Up', as we build more ramps in schools and public buildings.

Our 'Conversations on Special Needs' at the Jamaica Conference Centre last Wednesday included presentations by Pastor Phillip Johnson, the father of an autistic son, and Radcliffe Richards, the father of a daughter with Down's syndrome. They moved us with their passion for inclusion and their conviction that their children are God-given gifts who have kindled in them and their families deep love and devotion.

Senator Floyd Morris, director, UWI Centre for Disability Studies, called on the Government to set an effective date for the Disabilities Act, passed in 2014, to come into force. Indeed, we learned that countries that do not promote inclusion are losing millions as an increasing number of visitors and investors shop around for special-needs-friendly destinations.

Golden Jamaica at Commonwealth Games

We cannot be more grateful to our athletes, coaches, families, and organisers who have brought much glory to Jamaica at the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, Australia, which ended yesterday. There are two new names on the lips of Jamaicans: Aisha Praught-Leer, gold medallist in, of all events, the women's 3,000m steeplechase, and Daniell Thomas-Dodd, gold medallist in the women's shot put.

At press time for this column they join fellow gold medallist Ronald Levy, men's 110m hurdles; Fedrick Dacres, men's discus throw; our women's 4x400 relay team of Christine Day, Anastasia Le-Roy, Janieve Russell, and Stephenie McPherson; Janieve Russell again in 400m hurdles; and Kimberly Williams for the women's triple jump. Congratulations also to all medallists, you make us so proud.

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