Rabu, 19 Oktober 2011


Story: Zainabu Issah
A "juvenile" is a minor, which in most states is a person under the age of 18. When a juvenile violates a criminal statute, the consequences are usually very different from those if an adult broke the same law. Sometimes the Juvenile Court process is more lenient than the adult court, but sometimes it can be more onerous. A juvenile offender can find himself in Juvenile Court if he violates a criminal statute; that is, a state or federal law that allows for violators to be punished by a sentence to jail or prison.

Generally, there are three varieties of offences: Felonies, misdemeanours and infractions, though the terms for these three categories may differ from state to state. A felony is a crime that could result in an adult being sentenced to state prison, usually a sentence of over a year. Felonies include burglary, robbery, weapons assaults, violent sex crimes, murder, grand theft, and sale of any illegal drugs, to name a few.

Misdemeanours are less serious crimes, but can still result in a sentence of up to a year in the County Jail, if committed by an adult. Petty theft, possession of small amounts of marijuana, disorderly conduct, indecent exposure, less serious assaults, and drunk driving are generally misdemeanour offences.

The jail and prison sentences for these crimes do not usually apply to a minor, because he or she cannot be found guilty of a "crime." However, a juvenile appearing in the Juvenile Justice system will be presented with "charges" of violating those criminal statutes, as grounds for invoking the Juvenile Court's authority over the minor. Once invoked, the Court has broad control over the juvenile’s life.

Infractions are even less serious offences than misdemeanours, and include any offence that cannot result in any jail time, but only a fine or administrative consequence. Examples are speeding, parking violations, or failing to comply with administrative regulations pertaining to your home, car or business.

When a juvenile commits a crime, he is charged by a probation officer or a prosecutor in a "civil" (ie, not criminal) petition, alleging that he is subject to the Court's Jurisdiction for having violated the statute. If the charges are proved in Juvenile Court, a judicial finding is made that the minor is subject to the Court's broad control and jurisdiction. The Court’s powers include returning the minor home, imposing formal or informal probation; placement with foster care; enrolment in a special school for juvenile offenders, or even commitment to the State’s Juvenile detention centre, sometimes called “Juvenile Hall” or the “Juvenile Jail.”

This can continue until the minor comes of age, or even until the age of 21 or 25, depending on each state’s laws. Some states have laws allowing that minors 14 or older committing very serious offences may even be transferred to adult court and prosecuted and punished like an adult. It is therefore a mistake to take the Juvenile Court process lightly.

Where children are committed to these institutions, parents and family members are encouraged to visit and help children to reform. This aspect is not easily achieved when the parents themselves are the victims of the children's offence.             

Kofi Adu (not real name) is a 16 year old boy from konongo. He stole three metal scrubs from a friend and  was later arrested and imprisoned.

Because of his actions, he could not inform his parents of his arrest. "It was one woman pastor who decided to bail me. But as at the time I was supposed to be bailed, I had already been arraigned before court and so the CID Officer did  not allow it. He said the complainant wanted me to serve a sentence," he explained.
I asked ," When you were sent to court, did you go with a lawyer?". He replied by saying he was not given one but was sentenced to two years in imprison. I further asked him if he has been visited by any of his relations when he was imprisoned. He replied," I have never been visited by any of my relations. I only get to talk to people when organisations come to visits to know what is happening in the real world."
Eric (not real name) is now 18 years old. He claims to have been imprisoned falsely. He was alleged to rape a girl he fell in love with.
"Because the parents of the girl are rich, they decided to punish me by saying I have raped their daughter," he explained.

He added that he was sent to cells and arranged before court after two weeks.
I asked again," Did you go to court with a lawyer?. He replied he was not given the chance to and his parents were not bothered about it.
As to whether any relation of his has paid him a visit, he also replies " no one has been here to visit me since I came here."

I again asked," would you go back to your family when you are out?. He told me with tears in his eyes that he is yet to make that decision. “My family chose to abandon me here because they do not like me anymore. They did not give me the chance to explain what happened. I have been here for almost two years and I can no longer tell how they look like. They have chosen to abandon me here, so I would do the same," he said.
Kofi (not real name) is 17 and from Ho. He has been imprisoned for two years for stealing a car of a friend.

He also tells me he has never been visited by any of his relations and was not entitled to a lawyer when he was sent to court. He has had no visits from friends and families since he came to the correction institute. He told me he wants to be a soldier when he is released.

One inmate who gave his name as Nii said his parents were divorced and so his mother was the one taking care of him and this four siblings. She later got sick and had to be admitted to the hospital. “As the eldest, I had to search for money to look after her. This is how come I got introduced to theft. My luck run out oneday and I was arrested. Since then I haven’t set my eyes on my family and they have not come to visit me either.

But the question I ask is, "If the parents of these children care less about their welfare, how would they go on with their lives when they are released,? Why are they not entitled to Lawyers even if they are quilty,? What makes them  live this criminal lives even when they have parents to take care of them?.

My interview with them concludes to lack of parental care, peer pressure and even broken homes.Most of them who were not ready to talk to me about why they were in the correctional institution said they were not well taken care of by their parents. Others said they were the ones responsible for their family so they had to do something to survive.

The law of the country also prohibits sentencing juveniles to imprisonment (Art. 346, subsection 2, Code of Criminal Procedure 1960), yet they are imprisoned without even being entitled to lawyers.

Also when children when arrested for crimes, they are not supposed to be imprisoned with adult prisoners but the prison services in the country does not provide the room for these children to be imprisoned. They therefore share cells with adult prisoners before being arraigned before court.

Ghana was the first country to ratify the issues of the right of the child yet little or nothing is done to secure these rights of the children.

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