PM orders probe into fatal fire at juvenile centre

KINGSTON, Jamaica: Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, has ordered an investigation into a fire at a correctional centre last Friday that claimed the lives of five inmates and injured 13 others.

He said a Commission of Inquiry will be ordered to determine what took place at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre, located in St. Ann. Retired Court of Appeal President, Paul Harrison, has agreed to be the Commissioner and the Commission will begin working once the instruments have been signed by the Governor General.

According to police, they were summoned to quell the rowdy behaviour of some of the girls at the facility, which housed 61 inmates, last Friday evening. Stones and missiles were hurled at the officers by some of the girls. While attempting to stop the tumult, the officers discovered that a section of the building, which housed 23 girls, was on fire. The fire quickly spread, engulfing the entire building and trapping the girls inside.

The police rescued some of the girls through a rear window but were unable to save the lives of Ann-Marie Samuels, Nerrissa Gooden and Rachel King, all age 17, and Kaychell Nelson and Shauna-Lee Kerr, both 15.

Three of the 13 injured girls were taken to the Kingston Public Hospital for treatment of second degree burns. The others were taken for treatment at the St. Ann’s Bay Hospital.

Golding, who visited the correctional centre after the incident, expressed concern about the safety of the girls because the facility had been set on fire before. Part of the building had been abandoned because of a similar incident previously.

Children’s Advocate, Mary Clarke, has described the death of the five girls as a tragedy.

“It is a sad day for all Jamaica that five children should have died in a fire this way,” she said. “The staff and the girls are very sad, but it is encouraging to know the quick action that the Department of Correctional Services took, to get persons to counsel them – psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors are here with the girls.”

Clarke said her office would be monitoring further developments in the matter.

“We will watch the proceedings. For us, it is a long process. We have to find out exactly what happened, and then we have to wait on the police and the fire report. Our interest is always, down the line, to see if there is there need for a civil suit on behalf of the girls…we are here gathering our facts,” she said.

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