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, the Belizean 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 be achieved during juveniles’ formative years, thereby promoting responsible behavior in lieu of criminality. The studies draw heavily on the methodology of ABA 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 a report, which will help ABA ROLI’s expert working groups convened in Nicaragua and 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 preventing offenses, by resocializing and reintegrating offenders and by combating recidivism, 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 and Nicaragua, or about our Detention Procedure Assessment Tool, contact us at [email protected].