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Extra Opportunities For Young People In Penn And Pratt Centres

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Melanie Griffin

YOUNG ADULTS could be given new training opportunities to help them as they move into work.

Discussions are under way with officials of the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute regarding the establishment of new technical and vocational training initiatives for 16-18-year-old residents of the Simpson Penn and Willie Mae Pratt Centres.

Social Services and Community Development Minister Melanie Griffin said the discussions with Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) became necessary as a result of a decision by the former Ingraham administration to have the ages of persons who can be admitted to the centres increased from 16 years of age to 18.

This decision, she said, left a void as programmes and initiatives at both centres only cater to those persons up to 16 years of age.

"It is unfortunate that the former government did not make any provisions or accommodations at the Simpson Penn and Willie Mae Pratt Centres before or after bringing the Child Protection Act 2007 into force in 2009," Mrs Griffin told Parliamentarians during her contribution to the 2012-2013 Budget debate.

"This law increased the age of children who could be admitted to the centres from 16 to 18 years. With no programmes or adequate housing in place for the residents between 16 and 18, they are left to their own devices and this does not augur well for their rehabilitation or social interaction. We all know the old adage, 'The Devil finds work for idle hands.'

"The centres must prepare residents for life outside, hence it must offer sustained programmes to equip the residents with sufficient knowledge and skills to live productive lives," Mrs Griffin added.

Mrs Griffin said Social Services officials will also explore the possibility of re-introducing an Apprenticeship Programme at both facilities. Under the programme, residents who have proven themselves to be trustworthy "will be given an opportunity to apprentice with a small business".

"This programme," Mrs Griffin said, "will mirror the Trustee Programme that is already operational at Her Majesty's Prison."

Discussions, she said, are also underway with officials at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology with regards to expanding the curriculum to include opportunities for residents within the 16-18 age category as only those residents between the ages of 12-16 currently attend school.

"Presently, a partnership exists with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, which operates the Penn/Pratt Centre on site of the Simpson Penn. As I have indicated earlier, only the junior residents (12-16 years old) attend school.

"The facility needs to be expanded and additional resources primarily teachers made available to accommodate the older residents," Mrs Griffin added.

Mrs Griffin said the government is also committed to refurbishing the cottages at both facilities in the short term, and constructing separate facilities for the 16 to 18 year-old residents, over the long-term.

"The rehabilitation of the residents of Simpson Penn and Willie Mae Pratt Centres is the major reason for the existence of the centres (which) are responsible for developing youngsters who will eventually leave a confined environment and return to the society from whence they came," Mrs Griffin said.

"They should not return the same way they came. There should be a noticeable difference. This can only be achieved through continued education, which is available for committed residents to the mandatory age of 16 years but needs now to be extended to 18 years.

"If we expect the children of the Simpson Penn and Willie Mae Pratt Centres to be reformed we must set the conditions by which that goal can be achieved," Mrs Griffin added.

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