In the late hours of Friday, May 22, 2009, a fire broke out in a makeshift dormitory at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Facility in St Ann. As the fire spread, the wards in the grilled room remained trapped as the key to the room could not be found in the chaos. When the blaze was extinguished, five (5) girls were found dead, and in the days following the fire, another two (2) girls succumbed to injuries caused by the fire. They were all between 15 and 17 years old. The residents of the home who survived the fire have been left with lasting physical and/or psychological scars.
Immediately following the fire, JFJ began its advocacy to get justice for the victims and to spur the government to implement changes to prevent a similar tragedy. This included making representation to the IACHR on the situation of State Care in Jamaica, with a focus on the circumstances around the Armadale Fire.
Investigations and Enquiries, but little action
In the aftermath of the Armadale fire, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding ordered an investigation into the cause of the fire at the facility. A Commission of Enquiry was also convened and the report submitted in January 2010. The report outlined a raft of recommendations to be implemented to improve the situation of children in state care and prevent future tragedies like that one at Armadale. Since the tabling of that report, it has not been clear what, if any, recommendations have been implemented.
In the interest of public accountability and transparency, The JFJ legal and advocacy teams have continued to supported efforts to unearth documents that will clarify the actions of the government and their agents after the Armadale tragedy and to aid in advocacy to bring visibility to it.
Armadale documents being withheld/redacted
Over the years, numerous requests have been made to various Government bodies under the Access to Information (ATI) Act for documents that would shed light on the circumstances around the Armadale tragedy. However, a number of the agencies decided to withhold or heavily redact information. Human Rights Advocate, Alexis Goffe is one victim of this practice and in April of this year, enlisted the help of JFJ’s legal team to appeal the decision of these Government agencies before the ATI Appeals Tribunal. The ATI Appeals involved the Ministry of Justice, Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Education Youth and Information, The Department of Correctional Services, Ministry of Health, Offices of Service Commission, Jamaica Constabulary Force, Office of the Cabinet and Saint Ann Municipal Corporation who are represented by the Attorney General’s Chambers.
On the Instruction of the Appeals Tribunal, JFJ’s legal team has been working with the Attorney General’s Chambers who are coordinating the release of information from the various government entities it represents.
In light of the multiple fires and other tragedies at child care facilities since 2009, JFJ is even more resolute in its efforts to bring to light the situation of children in Jamaica’s state care system. The families of wards, national stakeholders in the child protection sector, and the public deserve full transparency from the government on its efforts to create the best environment for children it is care.