Our youths are not damaged goods that we refuse to handle…!


22-December-2012

He proposed the creation of a “boot camp” or rehabilitation centre on an island, far away from Mahé!

I am a Seychellois in “diaspora” and I am in France since 1968...! I am aware of the difficulties of troubled youths since I managed a youth centre for 17 years. I received 85 youngsters with behaviour and anti-social problems as well as a high percentage of absences from school. They were placed in the centre either by the juvenile judges or the administrative juvenile protection law.

We often seem to forget that the society has changed... We are no longer in the Russian period of “gulags”, even though we know that working camps still exist. We are no longer in the famous French period of “bagnes”, especially the well known one in Cayenne which was closed in 1946...! The same “bagnes” existed for minors on the French continent. One was in Belle Ile, an island on the Brittany coast, another one in Aniane and one in the town of Savigny sur Orge, near Paris. I had an occasion to visit this centre a few years ago.

They are now closed. The one in Belle Ile was known as the most repressive and repulsive centre. In August 1934, the youngsters rebelled and organised a riot after an incident with one of their comrades. It was closed definitely in 1977. Jacques Prévert, a well known French writer (1900-1977), wrote, concerning the centre of Belle Ile: “A pack of honest citizens went out hunting the child...”

These sorts of centres still exist in the world, especially in the States. Here there is a tendency to emphasise the imprisonment of minors. The applicable law is applied in a general and automatic way, while the juvenile cases require a strong individual response. Between 2003 and 2006, two judges were found guilty for accepting money in exchange of their decisions to send hundreds of youths to the private youth detention centres for long sentences!

In France, after closing these centres, the different governments tried to imagine special centres for delinquents. They opened “Les Centres Educatifs Fermés” (The closed educational centres), which the new Minister for Justice, in August 2012, decided to close. Now we have “Les Centres de Placements Immédiats” (The Immediate Hosting Centres), which is going to disappear quite soon. We still have “Les Centres Educatifs Renforcés” (The Reinforced Educational Centres) which cost quite a lot of money.

These centres usually admit between six and 10 youngsters from 16 to 18 years old.  For a centre receiving six youngsters, they have 18 workers to cater for them...! Quite a comfortable ratio...! The daily cost is about 700 euros to 1000 euros per youngster! To compare with the centre that I managed, I used to receive between 135 euros to 240 euros per day, per youngster, depending on the type of service...! You can easily see the difference!

Monsieur Lebon reminds us, in the motion, of the existence of the National Youth Service (NYS). I know some youngsters in my family who took part in the scheme and they were happy to have done so, even if life was sometimes difficult with the discipline. In France as well there was the compulsory military service which lasted 10 months (before it lasted 16 months). The government abolished it in 1996. In spite of this, 62% of the French people who were questioned lately still regret its suspension...! It is generally admitted here that the military service or the national service permitted the authorities to measure the social and the literacy levels of the youth.
In any way, the NYS as well as the French national service were not rehabilitation centres or boot camps! The goal was not the same as a centre which receives youngsters with personal, family and social difficulties.

As far as I am concerned and referring to my 17 years experience managing the juvenile residential centre, I think that it’s important for a country to choose to protect her youth. We cannot have an approximate position between a prison for youth and a rehabilitation centre. In the case of real and serious delinquency, the juvenile prison could be an answer. Here at least, the youngsters know the reason of their presence, and the rules and discipline are clear.

We need to educate our youngsters and try to establish a real relationship with them, based on a healthy authority. This is because we believe that the youngsters still have to go through their resilience and that things are still possible, nothing is lost. We have to believe in the capacity of our youngsters to rebound.

In all the countries we meet the problems of misbehaviour, drugs, violence concerning the younger population. In Seychelles I feel that the youngsters are still available and responsive to the voice of adults, compared to a country like France where the relationship is getting very difficult and stormy (you must have heard or read about the recent incidents in the schools and colleges). Our Seychellois youth still have something inside them which is ready to rebound and create relationship. They are still receptive.

The choice for the country is not between a rehabilitation centre or a juvenile prison and a residential treatment centre. It is rather on what sort of education we want for our youth? What sort of relationship do we wish to encourage between the adults and the youngsters? What message do we want to transmit to them...? Is it a message of promise and hope for the future or is it a message of despair because the society, because we, are unable to offer them a real place...?

We need to know what society we want to choose for our children...Do we accept to give them a helping hand as I saw in the themes of the new strategic project for the Seychelles “Social Renaissance”...?. I believe that we do so. This means that a huge task is awaiting us. We have to accompany our youth in the difficult work of rehabilitation... Rehabilitate them to the society, to their families, to their schools. And the most important is to rehabilitate them to themselves...! It’s an exciting prospect for the future!

Frank Underwood
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