Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | May 31, 2009
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Armadale girls get fresh start - New home at Diamond Crest, Manchester

Prime Minister Bruce Golding comforts one of the inmates of the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre in St Ann, where five girls were burnt to death and 13 others injured in a fire which almost destroyed the home. Golding flew down to the village on Saturday, May 23, to get a first-hand view of the incident. The girls now have a new home at Diamond Crest Villa in Manchester.

Howard Campbell, Sunday Gleaner Writer

SINCE THE fire that killed five of their colleagues and destroyed their 'home' at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre in St Ann on May 22, the surviving inmates have done their share of moving.

On Friday, their fortunes looked up when they moved into the Diamond Crest Villa near Alligator Pond, Manchester.

"They are really happy with their new facilities. They have never experienced this in a juvenile centre," said June Jarrett, acting commissioner of Correctional Services.

Having experienced a horrific ordeal just seven days earlier, the survivors could do with a laugh.

Prime minister Bruce Golding ordered Armadale closed, and an investigation into what caused the fire at the all-female institution has been launched.

The 45 survivors, ages 13 to 16, were temporarily housed at the Stony Hill Heart Academy in St Andrew and the Horizon Remand Centre in west Kingston.

Twenty of them are currently at the Diamond Crest Villa. Jarrett says the others will be gradually moved there.

After care

Jarrett told The Sunday Gleaner that the Government arranged the transfer to Diamond Crest where as many as six persons share a room. They will have weekly visits from a psychologist, psychiatrist and medical doctor, as well as being attended to by a superintendent, correctional officials and counsellors.

While it is still early days, Jarrett says Diamond Crest, a former hotel, is a major improvement to Armadale.

"They lived in dormitories which could be rough at times. What they have now is conducive to rehabilitation," Jarrett said.

Part of that rehabilitation, Jarrett explained, includes six weeks of orientation. She said helping inmates develop a skill is priority. A clothing and textile department, computer lab and home economics centre have already been established at Diamond Crest.

The Armadale tragedy capped a year of incidents at the centre which was home to 61 inmates. Citing poor living conditions and overcrowding, eleven of them escaped in April 2008.

In February, several inmates were transferred to the Fort Augusta prison in St Catherine due to security reasons. While there, they got involved in a week-long scrap with officials, resulting in a correctional officer being stabbed. The Armadale girls were also accused of dousing staff with faeces and urine.

Jarrett said Armadale's former inmates hail from Kingston, St Andrew and rural areas. Most of them were formerly in homes operated by the Child Development Agency.

After the challenges of the past year, she believes the girls from Armadale deserve a break.

"We want to ensure they get a fresh start. So we're doing everything to prevent a recurrence," Jarrett said.

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