Innovative Responses to Supporting Youth Offenders During COVID-19

May 5, 2020

Youth participate in a goal-setting activity

May 1, 2020 saw the exciting launch of Phase Two of the Youth Peace Ambassadors Programme at the Youth Transformation and Rehabilitation Centre (YTRC), the facility that houses youth offenders.

In Trinidad and Tobago, UNDP is drawing on its close partnership with the Prison Service of Trinidad and Tobago to respond to the new challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presents to the population of incarcerated youth at the YTRC.  The Youth Peace Ambassadors Programme which started as a  Pilot with 17 residents, has now been scaled-up to the entire population of over 110 residents. Phase Two of the programme will focus on psychosocial interventions, resilience building and psychoeducation around COVID-19. This innovative programme is supported through UNDP's continued collaboration with UNICEF on youth violence prevention. 

The aim of the programme is to teach youth effective coping mechanisms during the pandemic, build their resilience to resist the pull of lifestyles that landed them in the detention centre  initially, and reduce the high rate of recidivism among the population.  An important aspect of the programme is the engagement of the 17 youth from the Pilot, who will now be the leaders, mentors and peace ambassadors as Phase Two is rolled out across the full population.

As COVID-19 safety measures are still in effect, UNDP has turned to video conferencing technology to ensure that the programme continues seamlessly. Working in partnership with the YTRC and psychosocial specialists, the programme utilizes a mix of online classrooms, tutorials, and creative activities, all geared at bringing a humanistic approach to changing the behavior patterns, values and life outlook of the participants. With some of the young people soon due for release and re-entry into the wider society, this intervention is critical to reducing the risk of participants getting caught in a vicious cycle of failed social reintegration, reoffending, reconviction and social rejection.  Building and sustaining peaceful communities is therefore the ethos of the programme.

The launch of the programme began with a segment on goal-setting in which the youth were asked to reflect on their goals for the future. Following this, participants were led in simple yoga exercises geared toward eye health, stress management and emotional regulation in order to prepare them for the virtual classes in the upcoming weeks. The youth enjoyed this session and participated fully in the exercises.  The launch also featured general information  on COVID-19 which was well-received by the youth who were engaged and attentive.  It ended with music therapy in the form of a live steelpan performance streamed digitally from a local panyard. At the end of the session, youth used laptops provided by the UNDP to fill out evaluation forms and provide feedback. It is hoped that the introduction of the laptops will assist in bridging the digital divide often experienced by vulnerable populations.

Participant feedback from the launch has been overwhelmingly positive. Youth noted that they found the information on COVID-19 to be especially helpful. They also enjoyed the yoga. One young person commented, “I love this programme. It shows me my inner self and gifts.” Another remarked that the programme has started to change his mindset and another expressed that the programme could help him prepare him for the workplace once out of the institution.

The latest phase of the Youth Peace Ambassadors Programme with its inclusion of COVID-19 psychoeducation, is expected to help youth cope with the pandemic in a positive way, and provide them with skills to reintegrate successfully into society upon exiting YTRC.

Practicing yoga to improve eye health

Phase One participants are introduced to their role as mentors in Phase Two

Live steelpan performance as part of music therapy

Participants filling out evaluation forms on laptops provided by UNDP/UNICEF