UNMISS prepares juvenile detention officers to run first ever reformatory school at Juba

unmiss south sudan juba reformatory school corrections officers rule of law justice system

Participating corrections officers were enthusiastic about learning more about how to work with juveniles in conflict with the law.

19 Mar 2020

UNMISS prepares juvenile detention officers to run first ever reformatory school at Juba

Moses Pasi

South Sudanese juvenile detention officers have learnt skills for handling children in conflict with the law and held at a new reformatory school Juba.

“Now I know that children to be reformed must be between 12 and 17 years old, and that they have the right to be in good health, get adequate food and opportunities to exercise. They should get medical treatment in case of any sickness and sleep in good beds,” said Captain Susan Samuel, one of 50 prison officers and one of 15 of the women who attended a week-long training.

Following progress made in implementing the revitalized peace agreement signed in September 2018, a key challenge moving forward is to strengthen the justice system of South Sudan.

One important step was taken last year: the United Nations Mission in South Sudan helped refurbish Juba’s and the country’s first juvenile reformatory school. Now, what is the point of having this facility, capable of housing up to 100 juveniles in conflict with the law, without qualified personnel to run it, with most prison officers lacking the know-how to successfully deal with juvenile offenders?

This is the context that led the peacekeeping mission to partner with the International Red Cross, the UN Children’s Fund and the United Nations Development Programme to elaborate a comprehensive operation manual for corrections officers working with younglings.

To make these officers aware of its content, which is based on South Sudan’s Child Act and international standards for treating young lawbreakers, UNMISS organized a capacity building session for some of them, with the expectation that the fortunate few will share their new skills with those not attending.

As tends to be the case these days, some of the many questions raised by participating professionals were prompted by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“What do we do if a juvenile shows signs of being infected?” Captain James Kuol, one of the corrections officers at the reformatory school, wanted to know.

“If there is no prison hospital in town, you need to refer him or her to the administration of the main hospital,” replied Yashaswini Mittal, a Rule of Law officer serving with the peacekeeping mission.

James Arguin, the UN mission’s director of its Rule of Law section, pointed out that although the primary responsibility for the justice system to reach minimal international standards lies with the government, the peacekeeping mission is able and willing to offer its continuous support.

“We [UNMISS] need to make sure that the national prison services have the tools and skills needed to provide safe and secure treatment of prisoners,” he said.

The next concrete step forward will be for UN Rule of Law professionals to work alongside the entire justice system and international partners to review the cases of approximately 100 juveniles currently being detained in Juba. Their cases have not yet been heard, but over the next few weeks this assistance is expected to result in decisions on whether to acquit or sentence these younglings presently plagued by uncertainty.