The emerging mental health crisis facing Jordan’s young people must be addressed, not ignored. As adolescence and early adulthood are critical phases in human development, the hostility and isolation experienced by vulnerable children held in juvenile detention centres (JDCs) has proven to have a lasting negative impact on both their psychosocial and educational development. It is therefore crucial to provide Jordanian youths in JDCs with a safe and rehabilitative environment that will help facilitate their reintegration into society and mitigate violent or otherwise aggressive behaviour.
In recent years, Jordan has seen an increase in delinquent behaviours among youth. According to the Jordanian Ministry of Social Development (MoSD), the average number of juveniles detained and sentenced was 270 in 2020, a year Jordan witnessed a 31 percent rise in its juvenile suicide rate. Thus, it is important to analyse the juvenile justice system and assess the extent to which it aligns with international standards on juvenile justice, and most prominently with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by Jordan in 1991.
Predominantly, there is a concerning lack of disaggregated data available on the number of offences committed by children, the nature of their crimes, and the average duration of their pre-trial detention, as well as the total number of convictions and sentences being served in Jordan’s six JDCs. There are also noticeable discrepancies in the data shared by the MoSD and the Jordan Public Security Directorate (PSD); this is because the ministries do not cooperate on statistics or use the same indicators with respect to juvenile justice. A regularly updated and audited national database is imperative, then, in order to clearly reflect the number of affected youth each year and be able to accurately study their patterns.
A 2018 situation analysis study conducted by UNICEF and the National Council for Family Affairs (NCFA) closely examines the most recent reforms made to Juvenile Law No. 32 of 2014, and its application in practice to each stage of the Jordanian juvenile justice system. Violations at all three stages—the trial as well as the pre- and post-trial stages—are a widespread occurrence. Firstly, Juvenile Law No. 32 stipulates that, upon apprehension and arrest, all child cases must be handled by the Juvenile Police Department, with the exception of cases involving drugs, which are to be handled by the Jordanian national police. In reality, however, the vast majority of youth cases are handled by the PSD. Adults and children are consequently transported in the same police vehicles, and kept in the same waiting rooms and cells during the first 24 hours of being held. This clear violation of Article 5(a) of Juvenile Law No. 32 poses a huge threat to the safety of these children. Additionally, while the CRC tends to favour diversion in regard to less serious misdemeanors, with the goal of avoiding entrenchment in the lengthy juvenile justice process, the reformed Juvenile Law No. 32 of 2014 makes no explicit mention of any diversion processes.
It is important to note that international standards on juvenile justice require pre-trial detention to be an exceptional measure reserved for very serious offences. The decision must be made by a competent and impartial judicial body, and be subject to regular review. In practice, pre-trial detention is quite common, and accused children are not made aware of their length of stay, nor are their cases reviewed regularly. Most significantly, detained juveniles are not separated from those who are convicted, as most JDCs in Jordan are joint correctional and rehabilitation centres.
Secondly, consistent with international standards, the trial stage must take into consideration the best interests of the child and guarantee a fair and just trial. As such, Juvenile Law No. 32 incorporates various child-sensitive procedural safeguards, including the presumption of innocence and the right to counsel, to the presence of a parent or guardian, to appeal, and to be notified of the charges against them. Generally, the judicial proceedings appear to be conducted in accordance with Juvenile Law No. 32 and relevant international standards, although the social inquiry reports prepared by probation officers that inform judges on the backgrounds of children being tried are of poor quality.
Thirdly, in line with Juvenile Law No. 32 and international standards, the post-trial sentencing must promote the child’s reintegration into society and must not affect their education. The CRC therefore encourages alternative post-trial detention and restorative approaches in place of traditional incarceration. In an effort to align the reformed Juvenile Law No. 32 with international standards, Article 24 of the law incorporates various alternative post-trial detention methods into the Jordanian juvenile justice system. These alternatives include reprimand, community service, vocational training programs, rehabilitation programs, and judicial supervision, yet are rarely applied by specialised child judges. In practice, there is an absence of an implementation mechanism and lack of grants to fund these community-based programs. As a result, the majority of convicted children placed in JDCs see their education disrupted, and are surrounded by delinquent behavioural influences that make them more likely to reoffend. Although the law does require juveniles to be separated according to the gravity of their crimes, this is not the case in practice.
In an effort to equip youth with knowledge of healthy practices, ethics, and skills to manage their stress and aggression levels and facilitate their smooth reintegration into society, some non-governmental organisations including Mercy Corps Jordan implement post-care programs in collaboration with the MoSD, engaging youth who were recently incarcerated in intensive outdoor training sessions. The program’s findings indicate that participants leave equipped with effective life and social skills—having been placed in a safe environment that nurtured their desire to set goals and plan their futures—and with a considerably reduced chance of reoffending.
While this particular program yielded positive results, there is not enough literature available assessing the impact of such programs on a representative sample on a national level. Nonetheless, international studies indicate that alternative detention methods serve the same purpose as incarceration does, while shielding children from exposure to more serious delinquent tendencies. This is because they are able to maintain positive ties with their families and other community members and are protected from the stigma of institutionalisation. It is therefore in the best interest of children and in accordance with the law to strengthen and fund alternative post-trial detention implementation mechanisms, with the aim of building youth's psychosocial skills and equipping them with the necessary tools to reintegrate into their communities.
 Powell, V., (2014), ‘Breaking Youth Behind Bars: A Literature Review What are the Psychological Effects of Incarceration on Youth?’ UC Merced Undergraduate Research Journal, 7(1), p. 41. https://doi.org/10.5070/M471024989; Erickson, G., and Schaefer, S., (2020), ‘Long Term Effects of Juvenile Correctional Confinement’ in S. Palermo and R. Dumache (eds.), Criminology and Post-Mortem Studies – Analyzing Criminal Behaviour and Making Medical Decisions, (IntechOpen, London.) https://www.intechopen.com/books/7821
 Annual Statistical Report, (2020), Criminal Information Administration.
 UNICEF and National Council for Family Affairs, (2018), ‘Situation Analysis of Juvenile Justice’, p.106.
 UNICEF and National Council for Family Affairs, (2018), ‘Situation Analysis of Juvenile Justice’, p. 48.
 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules) (1985) Rule 17(1)(c).
 Juvenile Law No. 32 (2014) Article 8.
 Juvenile Law No. 32 (2014) Article 4, 15-22.
 UNICEF and National Council for Family Affairs, (2018), ‘Situation Analysis of Juvenile Justice’, p. 114.
 UNICEF and National Council for Family Affairs, (2018), ‘Situation Analysis of Juvenile Justice’, p. 87.
 Juvenile Law No. 32 (2014) Article 5(b).
 Mercy Corps, (2021), Nubader Fact Sheet. Available at: https://jordan.mercycorps.org/sites/default/files/2021-03/Nubader_Factsheet_Full_Feb-2021_FINAL.pdf (Accessed 1 September 2022).
 Austin, J., Johnson, K., and Weitzer, R., (2005), ‘Alternatives to the Secure Detention and Confinement of Juvenile Offenders’ Juvenile Justice Practices Series. Available at: https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/208804.pdf (Accessed 1 September 2022).