'Hardened juvenile offenders are difficult to reform'
He was then south Delhi's most notorious juvenile offender who would rob homes in government colonies and set fire to furniture before escaping, in a trademark sign. Though he is lodged in Tihar jail now as he is a major, the officials and warden of the reformatory home he was in recollect him as very violent and a trouble-maker.
He had managed to escape from the reform home at least six times. When he robbed homes in south Delhi government colonies and indulged in arson in 2010, he was a juvenile aged around 16-17 and was known to police as the "fire gang leader".
An official at the juvenile home in north Delhi's Mukherjee Nagar, where he was lodged for several months and from where he managed to escape four times, told IANS that such juveniles who have a "hardened criminal nature" and repeatedly indulged in heinous crimes "are difficult to reform".
"They (such juveniles) try to corrupt the other younger inmates and have to be placed under the 24-hour surveillance of reform home welfare officers and wardens. Most of them are reluctant to learn or reform themselves," added the official.
Such hardened juveniles often indulge in fights with other inmates and are always looking to flee from the home, he said.
A warden who did not wish to be named told IANS that sometime the older juveniles turn so violent that they attack the members of the reform home administration.
Following repeated demands from several quarters, the government on Wednesday decided to amend the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 that will pave the way for 16/18-year-olds to be tried in adult courts for heinous crimes.
In February this year, 35 inmates escaped from the Mukherjee Nagar home when two inmates were being shifted to a reformatory home in Majnu Ka Tila. In December last year, a similar number of inmates escaped from the Majnu Ka Tila home following a scuffle among inmates.
"Most of the inmates who escaped are in the age group 15 and 17 years," said another official.
Delhi has three juvenile homes -- the two in north Delhi are located in Mukherjee Nagar and Majnu Ka Tila, while another one is in central Delhi in Delhi Gate area. The Majnu Ka Tila home is a transit home for "convicted" juveniles and those who are repeat offenders. Such offenders are kept in separate rooms.
"Each such juvenile is lodged in a single room and put under 24-hour watch of a warden on his activities," an official who did not wish to be named told IANS.
The juvenile homes in the capital are run by the Delhi government. They have large rooms where many juveniles stay together. There are also common rooms where the boys can watch TV.
Non-formal classes in behavior and personality development are conducted by NGOs where they are taught how to conduct themselves and also taught some skills to equip them when they are released.
Under-trials or convicted juveniles are allowed to study inside the reformatory home and cannot attend any classes. But during exam time they are given parole on court orders to take their exams.
"Those juvenile offenders who are not hardened are able in many cases to turn a new leaf. Non-government organizations help the inmates to study inside the homes. Ten juveniles cleared their Class 10 and 12 exams this year," another member of the reformatory home said.
Welfare officers in reformatory homes keep a watch on the timings of their food and other activities. The parents or other kin are allowed to meet them every Friday.
"The first-timers or those below the age of 16 have been noticed to be less violent in behavior inside the homes. They are able to learn the basic etiquettes faster than the older juveniles," said another officer.
The homes are under three-tier security, including of Delhi Police.
(Alok Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 07-08-2014)
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