Vanuatu opens its first youth detention centre

Vanuatu’s first youth detention centre, the Mauria Juvenile Centre, opened this week in Luganville on Santo.

The Minister of Justice and Community Services, Esmon Simon, said the opening of “the high-standard centre” was one of the country’s “post-Independence historical moments”.

A youth detention centre is a prison for people under the age of 21 – a secure facility where young people are detained on a short-term basis while awaiting trial or placement in a long-term care program.

“The new centre can accommodate a total of 24 offenders,” Mr Simon says.

“It is accessible to young people with disabilities, with one of the cells within the centre designed particularly for young people with disabilities.”

The Minister thanked the project’s two main donor partners – the New Zealand and Australian governments – for their cooperation with and commitment to the Vanuatu Government on the design and construction of the new centre which he said was “child friendly and met minimum United Nations standards”.

He also acknowledged the support of New Zealand’s Department of Corrections and Ministry for Children in the technical and design process for the facility.

The First Secretary to the New Zealand High Commission, Adam Crichton, says the new centre will be “a safe space for young offenders” and was “a major step forward for youth justice in Vanuatu”.

He says Vanuatu’s Department of Correctional Services which manages four facilities and more than 230 detainees across the country, had worked hard to design and complete the high-standard facility.

“The role that the department plays in maintaining community safety across Vanuatu is absolutely vital,” Mr Crichton said.

“Whenever we visit a correctional centre [in Vanuatu], we are always impressed by the professionalism of the staff,” he said.

“You all truly do your best to live up to your motto of ‘Safety, dignity, respect and proper treatment for all’. These words are very important and they speak to the role that you play not only in helping to keep communities safe but in upholding the rights and dignity of detainees.”

Mr Crichton said these values were really important in dealing with young detainees.

“Yes, young people need to be held accountable for their actions when they harm the community but we need to do it in such a way that it will help them avoid further involvement with the criminal justice sector,” he said.

The Australian High Commission’s Acting Development Councillor, Cathy McWilliam, said she believed the people of Vanuatu were resilient in times of disaster and hardship, and showed an ability to recover and overcome adversity.

She said Australia was pleased to be able to support the new centre because it would help the young people accommodated there to also show resilience and to recover from bad situations.

“None of us want to see our young people go to prison,” she said. “But if they do go, there are some important international standards to protect and help these young people.

“The standards include keeping young offenders separated from adult offenders; allowing the families of young offenders to have contact with them; and importantly to provide young offenders with care, education and skills training to give them the opportunity to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society.”

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