The Caribbean region stands at a pivotal juncture, witnessing a disconcerting surge in youth crime that poses challenges to sustainable development and economic prosperity. The launch of the project, Opportunities to Advance and Support Youth for Success (OASYS), in the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis marks a significant step towards arresting this trend.
OASYS is a continuation of the ground-breaking efforts initiated by its precursor initiative, the Juvenile Justice Reform Project (JJRP). Implemented by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), OASYS seeks to transform the justice landscape for our youth. It aims to shift the focus from punitive measures to creating opportunities for diversion, rehabilitation and successful reintegration into society.
The Honourable Dr Terrance Michael Drew, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, National Security, Citizenship and Immigration Health and Human Resource Management and Social Security, in his remarks, noted the importance of programmes like OASYS.
“Programmes like OASYS are exactly the types of programmes that we need so that when we have young people who get in trouble with the law, we can step in early and get them on the straight and narrow and reintegrate them into society to become uplifting citizens of Saint Kitts and Nevis.”
Delivering remarks at the launch, Dr Didacus Jules, Director General of the OECS Commission applauded the initiative, emphasizing its alignment with the seven strategic pillars of the OECS Youth Empowerment Strategy (OECS YES). He stressed the importance of the shift towards a restorative justice approach and the significant role OASYS plays in this context.
“Research has shown that harsh punishment is ineffective in deterring crime, especially among our young people. By addressing the root causes of crime and offering support for rehabilitation, we can foster an environment that prevents youth crime and promotes positive outcomes for our youth.”
The Honourable Dr Geoffrey Ian Hanley, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Youth Empowerment, Housing & Human Settlement, Ecclesiastical & Faith-Based Affairs, Social Development, Gender Affairs, Aging and Disabilities, provided his support for the initiative. He stated:
“I can assure USAID, The OECS Commission and the people of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis that this administration remains fully committed to the cause of child protection and child justice reform.”
Mr Tevin Shepherd, Programme Management Specialist (Youth) for USAID, provided a high-level overview of OASYS. He remarked:
“Using a holistic approach, OASYS will offer educational opportunities, mentorship and job training for youth who are in conflict with the law. The project will also work with the community and the private sector to deliver these services aimed at strengthening community and family networks to help young people reach their full potential.”
OASYS brings together the concerted efforts of government agencies, community organisations, and the private sector in a drive to revise legislation in accordance with evidence-based best practices. This shared mission will foster a shift away from punitive measures towards rehabilitation and restorative justice, ultimately reducing recidivism rates and encouraging positive trajectories for youth offenders.
In addition to Saint Kitts and Nevis, OASYS will also be implemented in Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.