THE HOME: The St Michael’s Home for Boys in Diego Martin.

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Remove all 38 boys from St Michael’s ...recommends report on institution

By By Anika Gumbs CCN Senior Multimedia Investigative Journalist

The report on operations at St Michael’s School for Boys has recommended that all 38 children be removed from the correctional institution. 

The recommendation was made by the investigating team that was set up following the death of 13-year-old Brandon Hargreaves who died on April 8 after he suffered a fatal blow to the head when he fell in his dormitory room. In the report obtained by the Sunday Express, the investigating team concluded: “The overall information obtained thus far is suggesting the possibility of removal of the residents from such a hostile and negative environment in order to prevent further calamities or fatalities.” 

Based on the nature of information unearthed, the investigating team also recommended that more interviews should be conducted with staff and the boys to corroborate facts. The investigating team comprised director of National Family Services Vidya Pooransingh, child development specialist Candice Wallace-Henry and senior policy specialist Owen Hender. 

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has forwarded copies of the report to acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams and Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC, for the institution to be investigated.

The Sunday Express contacted Minister of Youth and Child Development Clifton De Coteau yesterday on the relocation of the 38 boys based on the recommendations in the report. 

Asked if plans were on stream to have the boys removed and to what institution, De Coteau said: “The AG said that due process must be followed. The report must go to relevant statutory body for the necessary action to be taken. The ministry does not have the power to suspend operations.”

The report, however, is not the first to highlight the horrific and heart-rending conditions under which the boys are forced to reside. 

Prof Selwyn Ryan’s report tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2013 also painted a grim picture of the institution similar to other reports conducted over the years. The home was built by Anglican authorities in 1889. 


Deprived of schooling

The latest report dated April 25 classified boys residing at the St Michael’s School for Boys in the following two categories:

• Senior boys - 15 years and over (exception 24 and 18-year-old men); and 

• Junior boys - 14 years and over (exception seven, eight and nine year-old boys).  

In terms of education, investigations revealed that 12 boys attend internal primary school, five attend trade classes and 20 attend secondary schools or Service Volunteered for All (SERVOL). However, during interviews with some of the boys, the investigating team was told that some of the boys are denied the opportunity to attend school consistently. 

The report said: “Most attend SERVOL or the Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme (YTEPP) even if they previously attended secondary school prior to entry into St Michael’s School for the Boys.”

Members of staff, the report said, also expressed concern over the educational welfare of the boys. 

“Limiting the educational options to mainly SERVOL or YTEPP are unfair to the boys and curtails their possibilities of achieving higher standards of education. Educational decisions were made without input from the boys or their families,” the report said. 


Beaten and kicked

Corporal punishment, the report said, appears to be the method used to discipline the boys and involves “kicking, slapping, punching and beating”, the report said. In the report members of staff also spoke of incidents of physical abuse inflicted on the boys that were either covered up or ignored. 

The report said: “There were reported instances of boys being beaten with rope and wood. One boy ran away after being badly beaten in solitude. Boys are often sent to YTC on fabricated charges to cover up abuse. Some boys would often be sent away when officials from the Ministry of Gender Youth and Child Development are carded to visit. Boys who abscond as a result of abuse would be taken to court or the YTC alleging breach of school rules.”

Staff, the report said, revealed that there are no programmes in place to promote positive behaviour and counselling is only offered to boys on remand which is arranged and paid for by the Family Court.  

Also listed in the report is an isolated incident where a boy was locked in an inactive dormitory after returning from a visit to his home.   

The boy, the report said, broke out of the dormitory and ran away. 

The report also listed a complaint by boys about not being allowed to bathe after working in the garden. 

According to the report, bathing is allowed only in the morning and at 5 p.m. The gym, the report said, is kept locked due to broken equipment, while TV is only allowed on the weekend and on public holidays.  


Homosexuality 

Apart from reports that a female member of staff became pregnant for one of the boys, incidents of homosexuality were also of concern. 

The report said the boys who commit the acts are sent to YTC as a “corrective measure”. 


Violence between boys

The report noted that there were conflicting reports relating to the death of Hargreaves. The report contains a statement from a boy who witnessed the incident. 

“The boy (name called) literally attacked Brandon punching him in the chest and head. Brandon who is asthmatic began feeling faint and fell forward using his hands to block his face. On the ground the boy (name called) continued to kick him on the head. Brandon showed no movement after the fall,” the report said. 


Mattresses as blankets

In relation to funding for the correctional institution, staff asked that an audit be conducted. 

Claims of clothing, toilet paper, soap and shoes being taken by staff and other people are also listed in the report. Due to the lack of bed sheets, the report said, the boys are forced to rip mattresses and go inside of them to keep warm. 

“Clothes donated to the boys are not given to them. Money given to the boys has to be handed over to staff. Staff indicated that a certain staff member steals items from the boys during inspection,” the report said. 


Insects in tea

According to the report considerations are not given to boys with food allergies and those who do not eat meat. Bread, the report said, seems to be the staple diet and is baked on the compound. The report said: “They (boys) rarely get fruits, even if the boys request it. Cold tea is given at dinner. Sometimes there are bugs in the tea and hair in the food.”


Dirty dorms

Investigations found that only two of the four dorms were being used. 

“The staircases were dirty, the bathrooms were dirty and pieces of soap bars were seen on the floor.  The toilets were broken and dirty. The stench of urine was persistent,” the report said. The acreage of land where the St Michael’s School for Boys is located in Diego Martin was also observed to be not satisfactorily utilised. 

The report said: “Despite 50 acres of land being dedicated to the St Michael’s School for Boys not much restructuring has been done over the years to reflect a more homely and rehabilitative environment. The buildings are constructed with classrooms in mind and are inappropriately and inadequately configured for dormitories. The general atmosphere reflects dilapidation and degradation and engenders depression not rehabilitation.”

The investigation team, the report said, also observed that parts of the perimeter fence were destroyed along with some of the lights. 


Flashback 

Ryan Report 

The following is an excerpt from Prof Selwyn Ryan’s report that also expressed concern about the lack of education being offered to the boys. 

Listed on page 279 of the report under the sub-heading “The Forgotten Lads of Trinidad and Tobago”, an excerpt reads: “The successes in terms of Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) pass rates which one tutor was able to achieve however, suggest that the school is failing the lads and not the other way around. (We note here that instruction for CXC is delivered on a pro bono basis only). This view is shared by prison officials. The lads are not “unteachable” but must have competent teachers who can speak their language and deliver their product in a way which dramatises the material and stimulates their interest and imagination.”

In relation to the abuse at the correctional institution another excerpt from the report reads: “There have also been reports that youngsters made fake guns in the school workshops which can intimidate; that they abuse, parents and teachers alike, and that there is also a latent homosexual problem. Unfortunately some teachers are suspected of being pedophiles and have abused young fosters who in turn abuse those younger than they are.”

 

Number of boys (residents at St Michael’s) — 38

Number of staff — 60 (inclusive of five senior supervisors III, five senior supervisor II and 20 supervisors I)

Number of dormitories — four

The summary findings are based on three visits to the St Michael’s School For Boys and 18 interviews.

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