Schoolboys as young as 14 locked up at Co-Ed
Schoolboys aged just 14 and 15 were locked up at the Co-Ed Facility as recently as this year despite laws designed to prevent the detention of children unless in exceptional circumstances.
Ian Kawaley, a former Chief Justice, ruled in 2012 that a sentence of “corrective training” for a minor who was committed to the St George’s facility was “a custodial penalty akin to imprisonment”.
Assistant Justice Mark Pettingill, on a separate point of law, found earlier this year that the detention of a 15-year-old boy at the Co-Ed by the Commissioner of Prisons was unlawful.
Mr Justice Pettingill added that the Department of Child and Family Services was complicit in the unlawful detention by either “misapplication or disregard for the requirements of the Children Act 1998”.
The Royal Gazette reported in May that police overstepped their authority when they handcuffed the 15-year-old boy at his school.
Mr Justice Pettingill’s written judgment said that officers had taken “the draconian step of effectively incarcerating a minor” after the boy skipped his flight to an institution in Utah.
The ruling explained that the child was taken into care by the Department of Child and Family Services in March and a magistrate granted an application to send him overseas a month later.
It added that arrangements were made to get the boy to the airport, but he was denied a request to collect some belongings first.
The refusal was said to have “tipped the pebble off the cliff” and when the child reached the airport he went to the bus stop, returned to the residential centre and attended school the following day.
Mr Justice Pettingill wrote: “It is agreed that while at school, two social workers and three police officers attended and the boy was placed in handcuffs and removed from the campus, despite the fact that he was compliant and was certainly not under arrest for any crime.
“This is the first element of this matter which causes the court significant concern as I fail to recognise by what legal authority the police became involved and effectively placed a minor child in custody.”
He added that “the court is aware that this is not the first instance of the police acting beyond their powers at the request of the DCFS”.
Mr Justice Pettingill said the situation was compounded when the boy “by agreement and prior arrangement with the Commissioner of Prisons was transported to the Co-Ed facility by the police”.
Tyler Christopher, now 23, told The Royal Gazette that he believed he was the first to be “housed” at the Co-Ed when he was 15 in January 2012, despite not being convicted of a crime.
He said: “No one had ever seen this before, that’s something I will never forget.
“No one had ever seen someone housed at Co-Ed without committing a crime.”
Mr Christopher claimed that he was sent to the Co-Ed — where he remained for three months — because he was in DCFS care and it was thought that placing him with youths from Somerset at the Oleander Cottage boys’ home would be a security risk.
Another youth, whose story The Royal Gazette reported in June this year, told how he went to Co-Ed as a teenager after stints at two different overseas schools.
He had been arrested for stealing on his return to the island and he alleged that Alfred Maybury, the director of the DCFS, would not sign his bail.
“I don’t think he had anywhere proper for me to stay,” he said. “So I had to go to jail at Co-ed. When I got there I had to take all my clothes off and stand butt naked in front of the prison guards. They said they have to do it to everyone, but it didn’t make me feel any better.”
A child identified as JS appealed against “a sentence of corrective training imposed for an indeterminate period for various offences” by Magistrate Tyrone Chin sitting with a panel in the Family Court imposed in January 2012.
Mr Justice Kawaley wrote in a Supreme Court judgment in June that year: “The principal ground of appeal was that the appellant was only 14 years of age at the date of sentence, the court below had no power to impose any period of corrective training.”
He said it was accepted that the sentence was unlawful and should be set aside.
The Young Offenders Act 1950 stipulates that if a child — at the time someone under 16, but amended this year to mean someone under 18 — is convicted of an offence that can be punished by imprisonment, the court can order probation or to “commit the child to the care” of the director of the DCFS or another person.
Mr Justice Kawaley’s judgment showed that parts of the law that allowed the court to order detention of a boy were relevant only in cases of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter.
He said that prosecutors believed a community-based sentence was appropriate and sought an order placing the boy in the director’s care.
Mr Justice Kawaley added: “Against this background, the imposition of a sentence of corrective training on a 14-year-old child by what is supposed to be a specialist child-centred tribunal is wholly inexplicable.
“No reasons for this astonishing sentence were recorded in the magistrate’s notes.”
The judge added: “One can only hope that the appellant came to no harm during his nearly five months’ detention in a place the law deems to be unsuitable for a child.”
Mr Justice Kawaley highlighted that the warrant for the boy’s detention said he would be kept in the senior training school with “corrective training at the Co-Ed facility to obtain the following — he is to be enrolled in the GED programme”.
He said that the maximum term of the sentence should be made clear.
Mr Justice Kawaley wrote that section 41 of the Act allowed “detention in the senior training school or a prison pending trial, in exceptional circumstances, of children no younger than 15”.
But the Act insisted the child would have to be charged with a serious offence that involved violence.
Mr Justice Kawaley said that “the manifest object of the Young Offenders Act is to minimise the circumstances in which a child accused or convicted of a criminal offence is detained”.
The Ministry of National Security and the Bermuda Police Service did not respond to requests for comment.
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