Holistic education structure needed


Second chance: Henry Gurney schools were established to care for young offenders by offering them education and vocational training.

PETALING JAYA: Education programmes for juveniles in detention centres need to be more holistic with academic work being considered as important as vocational training, say legal experts.

This kind of holistic education, coupled with community-based alternatives for non-violent offenders, will help reduce recidivism, they say.

Lawyer Nizam Bashir Abdul Kariem Bashir said that multiple reports suggest that children in juvenile detention centres tended to avoid academic education, opting instead for vocational training, agricultural work, religious instruction, physical education and counselling that involved less supervision.

“However, statistics and experience have revealed that low academic achievement is linked to higher rates of recidivism.

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“Children in the formal justice system have a higher reoffending rate compared with child offenders who went through diversionary measures. As such, it is time to consider a more holistic education system for juveniles,” he told The Star.

Diversion measures are aimed at directing young offenders away from the formal judicial system. They offer programming, supervision, and support that include education and vocational training, counselling and also community-based interventions.

“The juvenile justice system must review how education is approached.

“The framework should be geared towards reforming juvenile offenders instead of this merely being an insignificant part of it,” Nizam Bashir said.

He added that the system should also look into issues such as the number of teaching staff allocated, the duration of the education programmes, their outcome and quality.

Students at these centres should also have access to libraries equipped with books as well as plays, movies or performances to inspire and engage their minds.

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For children whose crimes are not severe, such as those who commit non-violent offences, Nizam Bashir suggested diversion programmes be an alternative to “formal processing” (entering the formal justice system).

“The Child Act does not have any specific provisions for pre-trial diversion. There can be community punishments such as a supervision order, a community rehabilitation order, a fine and a conditional discharge.

“Custodial sentences are only applicable to children when they have committed serious crimes,” he added.

Section 74 of the Child Act 2001 states that children aged 14 years or below not be sent to a Henry Gurney School (HGS).

Section 75 of the Act sets out that a child can only be sent to HGS if he or she is found guilty of any offence punishable with imprisonment; has a probation report that states that the parent can no longer exercise control over the child or that he or she was habitually in the company of persons of bad character; the child was not suitable to be rehabilitated in an approved school; if the offence committed was serious in nature or that the child demonstrates “criminal habits and tendencies”.

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner Ragunath Kesavan said that having access to education would translate into higher employment opportunities for these students.

The former Bar Council president said that whether it is academic education or vocational training, “ultimately, education opens doors and various opportunities for all”.

“More can be done in terms of the education system, but this requires a higher budget and commitment from the government.

“The government can enhance education opportunities with more vocational training while looking at other options for sentencing instead of incarceration.

“It must be noted that once they see a future, the rate of recidivism is very much reduced as well,” Ragunath said.

He added that many of the children who end up in juvenile detention centres are from broken homes, the B40 group or families struggling with economic hardship, or are school dropouts and those who are stateless.

Ragunath agreed that alternative solutions, such as community-based programmes and services, could be considered for non-serious offenders.

However, this would require provisions under current laws, including the Prisons Act 1995 and the Penal Code in determining different kinds of punishments.

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