Remarks at Juvenile Court Project

Remarks by Chargé d’Affaires John McIntyre
Convocation Hall, Hall of Justice, Port of Spain
April 6, 2017

Honorable Prime Minister, Keith Rowley;
Honorable Chief Justice, Ivor Archie;
Honorable Ministers of the Government;
Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps;
Representatives of Criminal Justice Agencies;
Civil Society Representatives;
Peer Resolution Youth Volunteers;
Members of the Media;
Special Invitees;
Good afternoon.

It’s a pleasure to represent the U.S. Government here today in this event marking the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’s adoption of new protocols governing cases involving children in conflict with the law.

This event is the culmination of years of collaboration among many different partners in pursuit of an improved system of justice, especially as it relates to how children are treated. The U.S. Government is extremely proud of its support to the Juvenile Court Project and the close partnership that has been forged between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Today marks one of many achievements that this partnership has yielded as we work together towards the larger goal of an improved child justice system in Trinidad and Tobago.

The two sets of protocols and the International Classification of Crime for Statistical Purposes (ICCS) adopted today will ensure that cases involving children in conflict with the law are handled in a way that guarantees that uniform principles of child justice are applied. At the same time, these protocols and new classification system will ensure uniformity in how crime and violence is reported, providing the Government and other stakeholders with improved crime and violence data that is needed to ensure evidence-based decision making in youth crime and violence prevention programming and policies.

The U.S. Government continues to support programs and initiatives that address crime and violence in the region. One of the central elements of this work is gathering evidence to better understand the different elements of the crime and violence challenges we face.. This evidence will allow us to identify the most appropriate approaches to dealing with these challenges. With scarce resources, all of us here today need to ensure that the activities and programs we invest in are ones that will have a real impact. To ensure that we need access to useful and reliable data to enable us to measure impacts and inform our decision-making.

As demonstrated by the many partners formalizing their commitment today, the necessary collaboration has begun and should be applauded and supported. Today marks one step along the way of strengthening the culture of evidence-based decision making in youth crime and violence prevention programming and policy.

Today we are focusing on how the Juvenile Court Project has advanced efforts to strengthen evidence-based decision making, the project’s impact has been much broader. The Juvenile Court Project is one of the examples of how the U.S. Government’s assistance through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, or CBSI, is working in partnership with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and other governments in the region to improve social justice and to promote a focus on prevention to reduce the levels of youth crime and violence. An important part of this work is centered on improving how children are treated when they come into contact with the law. This effort includes: supporting the revision of laws that direct a more restorative and rehabilitative approach; ensuring that agencies understand their roles and are trained to execute those new roles; and investing in the infrastructure of new courts that will focus on the unique needs of children and families.

These efforts will help the system shift from one focused on punishing youth in conflict with the law to one that promotes rehabilitation and explores new approaches to restorative justice. We believe that by focusing on rehabilitation, you increase the likelihood that youth will be able to make a positive contribution to society and significantly reduce the likelihood that they will re-offend.

The Juvenile Court Project has made a number of achievements critical to improving the child justice system. The project has introduced peer resolution as a restorative justice option in schools and courts. In Tobago, a school-based program is already offering benefits to children. The project will soon implement a court-based program in Trinidad. The project has advanced a package of Children’s Legislation critical to improving the child justice system. Finally, the project is laying the foundation for a new Children’s Court, a first for the Eastern and Southern Caribbean region. We anticipate that this new court will be launched later in the year. These achievements are one part of the U.S. Government’s larger set of assistance in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean region.

To be successful, we need to fight the stigma that youth face as they struggle to get their lives back on track. We must recognize that many of these youth have already faced serious trauma in their young lives. This trauma can include losing a parent, witnessing a violent event, and/or being a victim of crime and violence themselves. These youth need help in overcoming these challenges. We must ensure that youth are provided mentoring and support and given opportunities to make a positive contribution. These are urgent challenges that require prompt and collaborative action.

I am very pleased that the U.S. Government has supported this work and I look forward to the many achievements we hope to celebrate in the future that build on today’s successes. Congratulations to the many partners working together. The U.S. Embassy and USAID will continue to be supportive of your efforts.

Thank You.