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Bring down the crime monster... by whatever name


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The question of crime is one of concern to everybody. But the position is that the security forces in our country, for the last four decades, did not concentrate on suppressing crime. Their main objective was to suppress, to crush political activity. And, in the process, crime grew to unacceptable proportions. And criminals were able to form powerful syndicates, and they virtually took over the control of the life of the community in certain areas. — Nelson Mandela


I missed National Security Minister Robert Montague's announcement on February 4, 2018, which brought an end to the state of public emergency — at least in the name — and introduced the country to what is now called enhanced security measures.

I am happy for the people of St James; you are the joy and pride of the Government. The minister must have thought long and hard of the negative impact the name state of public emergency would be for all ordinary Jamaicans that he consulted with his colleague — the affable Edmund Barlett, tourism minister — and mentioned that he was thinking of bringing an end to the state of public emergency. Minister Barlett was ecstatic with the idea. I could just imagine him saying, “Bobby, what a brilliant idea, the ordinary people of St James will big yuh up for thinking of them.” Hmmm.

Since the state of...oops, my bad, since the enhanced security measures in St James, the parish recorded only two murders. Fun and joke aside, this is good news for all Jamaicans, especially those who endured a daily diet of lawlessness and mayhem in the murder capital in 2017. It's not rocket science, where there is a sense of order, and the rule of law is enforced, people think twice before acting stupidly.

It was Martin Luther King Jr who said, “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” My question to Minister Montague, however, is: Do we have enough resources within the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and Jamaica Defence Force to have enhanced security measures across the island, at least for six months?

While we enjoy peace with enhanced security measures, a credible, sustainable plan should be worked on so that post-enhanced security measures we do not lose all the gains we would have made as a nation.

On January 30, 2018, in this space, I suggested a crime plan that Minister Montague and, by extension, the Government could consider. I called it 'Make Jamaica Safe Again: A strategy for safe and stronger communities'. The plan I suggested is built on three pillars — enforcement, prevention, and oversight. I outlined the enforcement pillar in the January 30 publication and promised to share the prevention and oversight pillars in a subsequent article.



Enforcement without a prevention strategy is unsustainable. Prevention saves time, resources, and innocent lives. The prevention goal is to properly identify and target in a comprehensive way at-risk youth and provide necessary services before they turn to delinquency and are lured into a life of crime. It is demonstrably more cost-effective and efficient to engage in prevention — and in intervention — than to wait until young men become gunmen.

The strategy recognises that law enforcement is only one component of a comprehensive approach to violence and gang membership, and that stemming the tide of youth involvement with guns, gangs, and delinquency is equally important to ensuring public safety and promoting community well-being. It concentrates on identifying points of intervention that can reduce risk factors that are associated with problematic behaviour and delinquency, while increasing protective factors and resiliency that protect youth against such behaviour.

There are too many piecemeal approaches to addressing the at-risk youth population in communities across the island. I am aware that they are hard-working men and women within civil society and the Church working with the at-risk youth population, but some things don't add up.

Why are so many of our youngsters turning to a life of crime? A 2012 study conducted by the Research, Planning and Legal Services Branch of the JCF on prison inmates revealed the following: Some 35.7 per cent of the 894 inmates interviewed were between age 15 and 29; 37.4 per cent lived with mother alone; 67.2 went to upgraded high schools, 7.6 technical high schools, and 19.3 traditional high schools. However, 53.8 per cent dropped out before grade 11 with no subject; 18.7 per cent reached grade 11 but achieved no subject — only 9.1 per cent graduated with subjects.

We have a serious problem when 33.3 per cent of the prisoners interviewed had their first arrest between age 14-19. I think I have sufficiently made the case that early broad-based intervention strategies that involve the home, school, immediate community, the business community, the Church and the JCF community policing arm will save more youngsters from a life of crime.

The Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) was a great idea. But I must ask, how has it reduced crime on the island? Where is the report on the successes and failures of the programme? It is public knowledge that US$55 million was given to the Government by the Inter-American Development Bank in the third phase of the programme in 2015. Were the objectives met? Can someone share the CSJP report with the public or tell us where we can get a copy?

The prevention plan seeks to provide an islandwide vision for delinquency prevention; every child should be accounted for in this small island, every school, church, youth group, and all those involved in violence prevention among at-risk youth should be provided with an intervention tool kit to achieve this goal. The prevention component of the strategy includes action items in the following areas:

Action 1: Coordinate islandwide prevention efforts. The Church should take on a national mentoring programme paid for with grant funding. The Church is willing to do more, but like all other non-profit organisations it needs financial resources. Maybe it is time the Government reintroduces a faith-based secretariat in the Office of the Prime Minister to oversee the national mentoring programme and other faith-based interventions — not only in the areas of crime, but also climate change, sustainable development, human trafficking, among others.

Action 2: Facilitate and encourage local-level planning and implementation of prevention strategies.

Action 3: Provide resocialisation training, jobs and skill training to at-risk youth.

Action 4: Encourage the use of evidence-based intervention programmes and use targeted outreach to maximise participation. All parents must be involved at this level.

Action 5: Evaluate and assess the effectiveness of prevention programmes and make the report public. There should be a national prevention coordinator who would develop a comprehensive evaluation plan to conduct ongoing analysis of the implementation and outcomes of the prevention plan. By measuring the extent to which the implementation meets the strategy's objectives, over time, communities can plan and assess their intervention strategies.



I made the case in a previous article that, “Public accountability is one of the cornerstones of good governance. It ensures actions and decisions taken by public officials are subject to oversight to guarantee that government initiatives meet their stated objectives and respond to the needs of the community.” ( Jamaica Observer, January 23, 2018)

The question of who should lead the oversight is easy. I am recommending the Security Programme Oversight Committee (SECURIPOC) be given the mandate of national oversight or any other similarly constituted body with membership from a wide cross section of professions. The oversight committee will work to remove any potential barriers to effective coordination, implementation, and evaluation of the strategies outlined in this plan.

National coordinators of the plan will be given evaluation mechanisms to monitor the progress and identify any weaknesses that may be evidence concerning relevant strategies in their particular areas. A monthly report should be given to the oversight committee. This team will then report to the nation on a quarterly basis.

Let's put our shoulders to the wheel and bring the crime monster down.


Henry J Lewis is a lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Send comments to the Observer or