Juvenile Justice Study to Inform Reform Efforts in Nicaragua and Belize

September 2010

Juvenile defendants are entitled to special protections against deprivation of liberty, but in Nicaragua and Belize, as in many countries, the criminal justice system struggles to adequately protect the special needs and rights of juvenile offenders. According to Giovanny Campos, a Nicaraguan attorney working with the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), many Nicaraguans perceive that current laws allow impunity for juvenile offenders. There, juvenile incarceration is discouraged, however not all judges fully implement alternative, non-custodial measures for juvenile justice. Conversely, theBelizean juvenile justice system takes a more punitive approach and juvenile incarceration is common, according to juvenile justice expert Juan Carlos Galocha Morales.

In August, ABA ROLI began studies of juvenile detention procedures in Belize and Nicaragua. The purpose is to determine how rehabilitation can best beachieved during juveniles’ formative years, thereby promoting responsible behavior in lieu of criminality. The studies draw heavily on the methodology ofABA ROLI’s Detention Procedure Assessment Tool, considering national laws vis-à-vis international and regional laws, norms and best practices.

Galocha traveled to Nicaragua and Belize to conduct the field studies, working with Campos in Nicaragua and with attorney Nyasha Laing in Belize. They interviewed dozens who work in the juvenile justice system and visited sites throughout both countries, gathering crucial procedural and other information.Together with ABA ROLI research staff, Galocha is now working to prepare areport, which will help ABA ROLI’s expert working groups convened in Nicaraguaand Belize, respectively, formulate their recommendations for national juvenile justice strategies.

ABA ROLI’s juvenile justice reform programs in Nicaragua and Belize, funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, focus on tackling juvenile delinquency by preventingoffenses, by resocializing and reintegrating offenders and by combatingrecidivism, especially among juveniles accused of minor crimes that overwhelm the justice system and distract from major offenses.

To learn more about the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s work in Belize andNicaragua, or about our Detention Procedure Assessment Tool, contact us at rol@staff.abanet.org/a>/>.

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