Study: Ten challenges in handling cases involving juvenile offenders

A prisoner behind bars with hands cuffs. [Getty Images]

Inadequate funding, insufficient skilled personnel and scarce infrastructure are some of the challenges facing criminal justice agencies handling children in conflict with the law.

Further, the majority of public officials (60 per cent) have identified psycho-social support (guidance and counselling) as what is needed for children undergoing rehabilitation while 41.3 per cent indicated that juvenile offenders need legal representation and legal awareness.

These are some of the findings contained in a preliminary report by the National Crime Research Centre (NCRS), which has recommended that the National Police Service should establish more child protection units or children-friendly cells, end institutional punishment, and recruitment of more children’s officers, among others.

“From the findings, when children in conflict with the law were asked what they needed from the criminal justice agencies from the time of their arrest to reintegration and resettlement back into society, they gave at least 29 needs,” says the study.

The government-sponsored agency prioritised five top needs. It was established that more than half of children (55.1 per cent) in conflict with the law need formal education, provision of adequate basic needs and other personal effects (48.9 per cent), guidance and counselling (34.7 per cent), care and protection (33 per cent) and legal representation (27.3 per cent).

A total of 1,361 respondents were interviewed, out of which 1,002 were a sample of public officials drawn from Kenya Police Service, Probation and Aftercare Service, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), Department of Children Services, National Government Administrative Offices (NGAO), Judiciary and Kenya Prisons Service.

The study titled ‘Efficacy and Adequacy of Criminal Justice Agencies in Kenya: The Case of Children in Conflict with the Law’, seeks to assess the efficacy and adequacy of the criminal justice agencies and systems in handling juvenile offenders.

Some of the study’s key objectives were to identify the needs of children in conflict with the law during the process of administration of justice, identify the type of programmes or services that are in place to address their needs and assess the adequacy of criminal justice agencies in handling children.  

Concerns have been raised about juvenile crime and the efficacy and adequacy of the Kenya juvenile justice system to handle such children.

“The prevention and control of juvenile offending is best understood as a process consisting of different levels of intervention, including education and prevention at the community level as well as criminal sanctions and interventions to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and reintegrate them into the community,” says the preliminary report seen by The Standard.

NCRC says the intervention mechanisms require a balanced approach that fulfils the rights of the child and reduces recidivism – both in the best interest of the child.

A sample of 359 children in conflict with the law was interviewed in 25 counties with a high prevalence of child offenders.

The respondents were interviewed at Shanzu Boys Probation Hostel, Kakamega Rehabilitation Home, Shimo La Tewa Borstal Institution, Siaya Women Probation Hostel, Dagoretti Girls Rehabilitation Home, Kabete Rehabilitation Centre, Kamiti Youth Correctional Training Centre and Makadara Probation Hostel.

Other centres were Kamae Girls Borstal Institution, Kombewa Rehabilitation Home, Kisumu Children Remand Home, Wamumu Boys Rehabilitation Centre, Shikusa Borstal Institution, Kirigiti Girls Remand Home, Othaya Boys Rehabilitation School, Nakuru Remand Home, Kericho Rehabilitation Home, Nyeri Children Remand Home, Kimumu Boys Probation Hostel and Kirigiti Remand Centre.

When asked why they think the criminal justice agencies have not been effective in addressing their needs, the juvenile offenders gave various reasons. About 29.5 per cent mentioned inefficiencies in service delivery, 28.7 per cent expressed delays in their work, 27.4 per cent cited unethical or unprofessional conduct by some officials and 27.1 per cent felt there was inadequate funding.

Out of the 11 reasons given, 22.9 per cent of the respondents mentioned insufficient training programmes for children, lack of proper implementation of programmes (16.3 per cent), unprofessional conduct by some criminal justice agencies’ officers (20 per cent), and delay in criminal justice processes and intimidation and harassment (14.3 per cent).

Most of them (89.8 per cent) cited the lack of enough financial resources, 81.5 per cent indicated inadequate infrastructure, 81.2 per cent identified the lack of enough equipment and another 66.9 per cent the lack of enough programmes or services. In comparison, 61.2 per cent said there are not enough skilled staff to handle children in conflict with the law.

“On the contrary, a significant number of respondents agreed they have enough policies and regulations to handle children in conflict with the law (67.4 per cent), adequate medical and health support programmes for the children (49.5 per cent) and adequate legal representation for them, at 44.7 per cent,” says the report.

More than half of the respondents (58 per cent) during the survey conducted in June, this year, felt the criminal justice agencies were inadequately funded while 36.7 per cent cited insufficient skilled personnel on children matters.

Other challenges included inadequate infrastructure and equipment (33.8 per cent), inefficiencies of criminal justice agencies (15.9 per cent), low civic education, lack of awareness and sensitisation (12.8 per cent) and neglect and rejection from parents and guardians (11.9 per cent).

“In general, the children indicated that criminal justice agencies have not managed to effectively address their rehabilitation needs. This therefore calls for the need to address the challenges faced by children in conflict with the law,” states the report.

Apart from recommending special cells for juvenile offenders, NCRC has proposed that the ODPP should sensitise and encourage communities on alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, placement of children in community-based rehabilitation, decentralising of borstal institutions and youth corrective training centres, refurbishing of the current dilapidate infrastructures and increasing allocation to rehabilitation centres.

Further, the agency is advocating the recruitment of more children’s officers, staff capacity building and diversifying vocational training needs as well as increasing funding to criminal justice agencies.

“The findings of this study showed that one of the challenges faced by children in conflict with the law entailed the cost of legal representation. Consequently, there is a need to strengthen the pro-bono legal representation services to children in conflict with the law,” says the report.