Suggestions for Crime reduction and control – my thoughts
by Maurice Williams
The first recorded conference on crime was convened in 1989, “THE NEW CRIME WAVE – A NATIONAL CONCERN” when staff at the Community Development Division brought together government officials, school authorities, community groups, law enforcement and magistrates to examine the trends in juvenile delinquency and to implement measures designed to reducing its incidence and to indicate that if immediate action was not taken to stem the tide, the nation would be confronted with “a new crime wave.”
Attorney General, Mr. Tapley Seaton expressed the view “Fortunately the majority of them live worthwhile and productive lives, but the minority, if left to their own devices will soon blossom and overtake the majority.”
Senior Magistrate, Mr. John Lynch Wade “cautioned that in five years persons will not be able to walk the streets”, reducing by five years the observation of the probation staff whose prediction was ten years.
The Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr. Edward Hughes, in his presentation on “Police Procedures” opined …… “if things continue to go unchecked, soon, individuals will probably be unable to walk down the streets without being molested”
During the years leading to 1989 period, criminal activity was at a minimum, no one even noticed. However the incidence of non attendance at school, maternal deprivation, family dysfunction and child neglect, juvenile offending were clear warning signs that a new crime wave was on the horizon.
The rate of Juvenile offending was, in 1990, hovering around 1.2% of all offences. In a short time span of some eight years later 1998, the rate of offending by juveniles had increased by about 17% and in 2004 by 66%.
It would appear that the hard evidence is consistent with the 1989 forecast and the prediction of the conference was “spot on.” The onslaught of criminal activity (not juvenile offending) was unleashed on the citizenry as predicted by the conference.
There can be absolutely no doubt that the Federation for several years has been experiencing unprecedented levels of criminal activity and in serious proportions, which none of its citizens or residents is willing to endure.
It is painfully obvious, that the country has not been able to apply any remedy with the degree of efficiency and effectiveness necessary to instill confidence in the adequacy of its response to crime. This has resulted in a rather uncomfortable situation in the extreme, for all residents who continue to hold out hope and wish that its incidence is reduced to more tolerable ranges.
Long term solutions to crime reduction and control, reside not in efforts at better policing, multi-million dollar investments in law enforcement, law revision, stiffer penalties, penal reform, conferences, commissions, councils and inter-ministerial committees but on an a completely new approach. One which encourages and provides tangible support to those institutions which give individuals a place and stake in the community by making it possible for them to play a meaningful role, one which gives them a sense of purpose, a feeling that they are wanted, valued and a sense of belonging.
Crime prevention strategies, therefore, as a matter of course should be built into the planning of all social and economic programs. This measure would have the effect of mitigating the negative effects of criminal behavior on development and progress. Such strategies must include primary prevention which is designed to stop the problem even before it starts.
Through a process of early intervention, action must be taken so that anti social behavior, personal, family or community problems are minimized or do not arise at all. All of the agents of formal and informal social control; the family, the community, the school, the church, legislation, the criminal justice system, the media are critical in crime reduction and control. Any effective response to controlling and reducing the intolerable levels of crime must be rooted in calculated efforts to arrest and repair the corrosive effects on these agents.
The family, as the first and most important institution in society must be lifted out of a state of dysfunction. Government, as the institution with an obligation to provide for those in society who are unable to provide for themselves, has the first responsibility to ensure that the family is strengthened and supported.
Families as the bedrock of our society must be equipped to provide the greatest support to their members especially in difficult times. It must have the capacity to build resilience and strength to overcome challenges, to provide love, a sense of belonging, security, encouragement and inspiration that help members succeed.
History is replete with evidence which proclaims how important the quality of family life has always been to the strength of nations. The decline and rise of nations appear always to coincide with the strength and weakness of the institution of the family. When these societies were at their peak of power and prosperity, the family unit was strong and highly valued. When family life became weak in these same societies, when the family was neglected and not valued, when goals became individualistic the society began to tear, tangle and disintegrate at its core, deteriorating and eventually falling.
While the majority of our families in the Federation appear to be doing well, the stresses in today’s society make it increasingly difficult for them to cope, even under the best of circumstances. A significant minority have simply not been able to take advantage of the opportunities which the national agenda provides. Poverty, lack of access to services, poor housing, lack of qualification, extended working hours, unemployment, defective sociailisation practices, breed a host of social problems which are manifested in various symptoms in our several communities.
The increasing growth of street children and its corollary proliferation of gangs, delinquency, misuse and abuse of drugs, youth violence, all had their genesis in dysfunctional families where child abuse and neglect were more regular diets than nutrition and discipline; in homes without structures and boundaries and in which parental skills and competencies were uninvited guests.
It is through the process of socialization that children learn conformity; but a family unable to meet its most basic needs, cannot be motivated or encouraged to carry out even this most basic function. It is in the family and family services in which investment is required most but where it is most lacking.
The epidemic of social malaise which infects the society is merely a symptom of a deeper and more sinister pathology deeply rooted in experiences during those periods before birth, throughout infancy and early childhood, puberty and adolescence but one which is still being treated with indecent levels of indifference and denial and lack of resources.
It has long been recognized that the most important period in an individual’s development is the period between birth and five/eight years. It is the period, through socialization when a person’s character is molded and personality is formed. To a large extent, this period determines how the individual will adjust and conform to the responsibilities of good citizenship. The lack of love, security, attention and affection are far more likely to produce delinquency than bad material conditions resulting from poverty. In the local context, this is the same period during which a significant proportion of children in the Federation are robbed of their innocence and have their voices silenced by the scourge of the worst forms of every conceivable type of abuse and neglect. It is the same period during which multiple scores of children are growing up in homes without standards or rules and in which defective discipline reigns supreme. It is the period during which children are exposed to sexual initiation, even before they could speak. It is the period when infants and young children are punished, in fact BRUTALISED, by having their body parts burnt, bitten, scalded, fractured, broken, lacerated. They are tied, tossed, tussled and trampled upon. They are kicked, stomped upon and left with permanent reminders engrained in their flesh. And then there are the wounds without scars resulting from the most primitive forms of emotional and psychological abuse which always accompany those brutalities. They are berated, belittled and degraded, told they are no good and will amount to nothing. They are referred to as being moo moo and stupid. They are often locked away or left unsupervised in what could be described as dark and lonely dungeons of their homes for several hours, occasionally for days, without access to caregiver or nutrition. They scream, they yell, they bawl. They yearn to satisfy their basic need for love, affection, warmth and attention, security and nutrition, none of which come on time and when they do come, they are displayed not in hugs and kisses and reassurance but in abuse, blame and emotional neglect by the most important person in their life; their primary caregiver.
This pattern of behavior is repeated several times over with regularity and complimented with prescribed overdoses of regular exposure to television cartoons, streaming with violence and adult content. This, sadly, constitutes the real world of a child who is not developmentally mature enough to separate fact from fiction. This is not the exception but a profile of child care in St. Kitts. Wayward children are products of family dysfunction, bad parenting and other contributing factors!
(By the way, in regard to the influence of television, while the debate over its ill effects rages on, there is evidence which attempts to rebut the argument that viewing violence on television leads to aggressive behavior and supports the reverse that individuals who are already innately aggressive gravitate to violence on television to validate and reinforce their own anti-social tendencies which is achieved when they witness characters behaving in the same way they do.)
Where is all of the rage, violence and social decadence in the Federation originating? When in their infancy and early childhood, children are brutalised by the person on whom they depend for nurturing and love, for merely breaking a rule which they did not know exist nor the wrong which was committed (without standards and boundaries, there is no wrong and right.) Could this be the key to unlocking the mystery of today’s youth who shoots indiscriminately, stabs and kills in cold blood, without provocation? Is the early years experience of darkness and loneliness now manifesting itself into an unconscious craving for a prison cell which resembles a similar environment to the experience of their childhood “dungeon” or is it partly the reason why so many youngsters find comfort, security and social status in prison and feels abandoned and alienated by the free society? This is a dangerous proposition.
The experience of these early formative must have some bearing in shaping the current crisis and contributing to the social implosion, only the first little cracks of which is being revealed. The worst is yet to come.
The wayward youth who are wreaking untold havoc in the Federation, are challenged, not by deprivation of material possession or unemployment but by social indigence and moral destitution. They are children without a conscience, prone to violence, acting on unrestrained impulse, with easy and unrestricted access to deadly weapons. They are children who are the products of defective socialization, inconsistent discipline or no discipline, they are impervious to pain and not able to appreciate the pain they cause to others nor the consequences of their action. They are the young “machos” for whom prison holds neither fear nor terror but honour; and who revel in the publicity of their harm to society. They have nothing to lose and will boast that they are prepared to lose even that. For them, life is not sacred. They have now become the children who nobody wants. Neither the families in which they were born and which taught them to hate, nor the neighbours who looked on in silence, nor the streets in which they played, nor the communities in which they perfected their craft, nor the teachers who neglected their role in providing pastoral care; nor the society which treated them with indifference and denial are now willing to tolerate behaviours which they collectively nurtured, all the while, creating the “proverbial monster” which now cannot be controlled. This is the reality of the modern day violent offender in the Federation.
The suggestion by responsible individuals that gang members are blowing themselves into extinction and are of no threat to law abiding citizens is a myth and offering the unsuspecting public only the comfort of porous body armour and penetrable psychological shield, while obscenely disregarding the realities of the situation in those countries where it is common for babies and innocent relatives to be shot and burnt alive in their homes, not by accident but in cold and calculated rage, at times “the destruction of an entire nation to catch one man.” For these youngsters in St Kitts-Nevis, this is not a restricted or controlled commodity, it too will be imported, so too will be kidnappings and abductions and cybercrimes as were gun culture, gang culture etc. Importation of these contraband vices will find fertile minds in this country.
A good indicator of what the future portends is the thousands of preschoolers who flood the streets during the annual child month march and the growing number of those in nurseries. When these are combined with the rate of teen pregnancy, it cautions that storm clouds are still forming and ready to burst. Unless the coordinates are plotted accurately, the next generation of troubled youth is already being nurtured and with no effective preventive measures to mitigate against the effects, the approaching storm will be devastating beyond imagination.
The entire country needs to be on emergency alert. Cute as these children are on the streets on parade day, may not be a reflection of “good homes”, in which they are well socialized and insulated from child abuse, neglect and family violence (over 240 cases of child abuse and neglect were reported in 2017. Some experts opine that for each reported case of child abuse, three are unreported) but more frighteningly a reliable and steady source for the replenishment of gangs. Sustained action is required now to ensure that homes and families are no longer primary institutions for the production of street children, juvenile delinquents and gangs.
The tide which is rising fast can be stemmed through early intervention strategies with at risk families beginning while a child is still in the womb. There are telltale signs even at this early stage, while still in utero, when with a reasonable degree of certainty, risk factors of abuse and neglect can be identified by health professionals at prenatal. Later in maternity wards, a mother’s interaction with the new born also provides early indicators of the future care of the child.
Too many families continue to experience difficulties which exacerbate their situation and circumstances, limit aspiration, reinforce circles of poverty, domestic violence and provide poor models of behaviour which impact family members; especially children’s development and wellbeing, with concomitantly significant expenditure for public services and the wider community.
Health professionals to sharpen skills at early identification of at risk child before birth and to make referral for support services:-
- Parents will be provided information about good parenting; knowledge about services available; have the opportunity to discuss with professionals their current situation and circumstances surrounding their own growing up and being offered continuing services at day nurseries and pre-schools and through home visits by multi-disciplinary team.
- Child at risk will be monitored and provided support services from birth through to kindergarten.
- Children already in nurseries and preschool to benefit from this strategy as well. This will require training for child care providers who will be equipped with skills to identify children at risk at this early stage
In the home, families will be assisted in meeting immediate and long term material and other basic needs of all its members; provided emotional support; basic child rearing skills; introduced to knowledge and skills for positive socialization; linked to required medical care and encouraged to become involved in the appropriate use of health care.
These early intervention strategies will:-
- Better equip families to help themselves and their children
- Empower and strengthen adults in their roles as parents, enhance parental capacity and empower families to act on their own behalf
- Help prevent problems from occurring rather than curing them
- Increase the stability of the family
- Increase parental confidence and competence
- Promote the flow of resources and support to families to help all children have the best start in life, flourish in childhood and to realize their full potential.
Establish a foster care service through recruitment of qualified families to provide temporary homes for at risk children whose parents refuse to cooperate with professionals who are providing support services.
This would require a modernized social services department.
A fully equipped CPS Service with responsibility for the protection of children will be critical
In the Federation, the roots of crime are buried deeply in homes and families. This is where social engineering is required for effective crime prevention, stopping it before it starts!
Early intervention delivered directly to families in pediatric ward, prenatal clinics, in nurseries, preschools and intensive home visits would have significant impact in long term strategies for crime reduction and control.
Reduced to mere geographical boundaries, the real sense of community has been buried by rapid infrastructural and economic growth which is taking place in the name of progress and development. Residents no longer have an affinity nor feel connected to the physical space in which their homes are situated. Industry, social barriers of maladapted housing projects, appetite for materialism, individualism, apathy have all but extinguished the flame of community spirit, that cohesive force which traditionally kept community members together as a strong unit sharing common values.
The best hope for a new direction in crime prevention, will come with the reinvention of communities through the employ of community development strategy for community education, community organization and empowerment.
Communities need to be brought back fully into the act; not as passive recipients but active participants in a bottom up approach to development. When change takes place and new ideas introduced without the involvement and participation of the community, this will largely be rejected and disregarded by members and will inevitably result in standards of conduct becoming uncertain and a weakened sense of belonging. The community will continue to disintegrate, a manifestation of which will lead to an increase in crime.
Communities in which residents are not meaningfully engaged and where decisions are made not by members but for members, feelings of alienation will be engendered and there will be no cohesion; standards of conduct and behaviour will not be observed and the mechanism for enforcing community values and norms will be non existent.
Crime and delinquency will devour any society in which punctually is blatantly ignored by all institutions; from the law making body to the entertainment sector, form the court to the businesses and the like and a society in which the motoring public breaks the traffic laws with impunity, where children are permitted to drink, smoke, swear and gamble in full public view, where parents are facilitated in abdicating their responsibilities, where language is loose and where bad behavior and misconduct is glamorized. When these repulsive practices creep up and become engrained into the psyche of villages and towns the social fabric will tangle and tear, creating a mesh to entice greater break down.
Law and order will best be maintained when built on a bastion of strong communities as this ideal would only flourish in a well ordered and just society
Efforts must be implemented to promote communal living by facilitating the development of the innate abilities of community residents for wise judgment and leadership on the initiative of the community (and this is lacking) by the use of strategies for stimulating action. These efforts reaped tremendous dividends not so long ago, when community councils proliferated everywhere. Youth groups flourished and bloomed all over the landscape, social action by and on behalf the community touched the very souls of residents. Communities were alive, vibrant and closely knitted.
The social engineering required to correct the pervasive social malaise and decadence is locked away in the societal norms which are not being allowed to sprout and mushroom.
Design and implementation of an effective community development program emphasizing “process” and not “product” led by competent staff whose responsibility will be:-
- Delivery of awareness raising and educational programs with the active involvement of residents to address challenges which confront members
- Community Development Officers must be tasked with immediate transformation of community centres into institutions of social change,
- Establishing of community councils to promote empowerment, popular participation, volunteerism, self-help and active participation in decision making at all levels.
Youth Department would embark immediately on implementation of plans to create a vibrant youth movement by stimulating the creation of community youth groups and strengthening those already in existence.
The education system appears to be focused on equipping students with the training only to “pass” subjects and not emphasizing sufficiently the more important role of training individuals for productive living as contributing members of the society. While deficiencies in the delivery of “education” continues to attract wide attention, often overlooked, maybe inadvertently so, is the lack of pastoral care, an important ingredient which ought not to be ignored in a learning environment for the holistic development of children.
The school environment appears to be encouraging a significant population of students to “vote with their feet” and cultivate a habit of non-attendance.
The problem of non-attendance must be recognized as being deeper and more sinister than a mere absence. It may be caused by several factors:-
- a symptom of psychiatric and psychological disturbance in the child
- the child’s realistic view of the school
- neglectful or indifferent attitude of the parents
- a reflection of the school environment, organization and the behaviour of teachers
- Non-attendance affects society in several ways
- The non-attender becomes educationally challenged
- The child, while out of school, is at risk of committing offences
Non-attendance at school is widely recognized and accepted as a precursor to juvenile delinquency, which if not addressed is likely to lead to further problems in adulthood.
Crime would not be adequately addressed if the problem of non-attendance at school continues to flourish.
Recruitment and deployment of School Attendance Officers with the ability to identify the types of non-attendance: – truancy, parental withholding and school phobia and with the collaboration and cooperation of other agencies offer services to children their families and schools.
The criminal justice system
The broad objective of the criminal court is to prevent, detect and punish crime and other agencies, the police, probation, parole, corrections and prisons are all involved in seeking to achieve these aims.
The wide range of options on the sentencing tariff available to the court is designed to:-
- Express the public’s abhorrence of crime
- Punish the offender
- Protect the public
- Provide compensation to the victim or reparation to the community
- To deter against reoffending.
Essentially, the court seeks to accomplish these aims in three ways:-
- By deterring potential offenders through fear of punishment
- By offenders who have been appropriately punished not to offend again
- By removing from society through incarceration, those, whose behaviour represent a danger or threat to society.
The levels of criminal activity, in particular, violent crime will not be significantly impacted by the justice system, given the profile and attitude of the perpetrators. For them, the system holds neither fear nor terror, apparently as a result of knowing that they will never be caught and further, imprisonment for many, is equivalent to a badge of honour.
The most effective weapon of deterrence against law breakers is the fear of being caught, charged, prosecuted and punished. The police in its role as an agent in the justice system, is failing in its duty to demonstrate to the public and potential offenders that law breakers would be caught, successfully prosecuted, convicted and punished. The failure of law enforcement in this indispensable duty, is and will continue to result in the public’s loss of confidence in the justice system, embolden criminals, who will adopt a more bold and daring posture, leaving the populace paralysed in a perpetual state of fear for their safety. This is our current reality. Crime and criminal behaviour will not be impacted until the police who are the gateway to the criminal justice system become more effective guardians of public safety and security.
When police demonstrate the ability to catch and prosecute suspects, only then effective deterrence will take effect and criminal activity will decrease. THIS IS AN IMMEDIATE AND SHORT TERM CHALLENGE!
The juvenile justice system
The Administration of Juvenile Justice is highly regarded as the best defence against crime. Its role is best described as a “clinic” where children in conflict with the law are brought for treatment, not punishment nor to determine guilt or innocence, but while still at an impressionable age children’s behaviour are diagnosed to discover why, the causative factors which led to the offence being committed and to employ measures to address the cause(s). This is accomplished by meaningful engagement of parents, caregivers, clinicians, social workers, probation officers and as a last resort, deprivation of liberty. The environment and structure of the juvenile court must reflect this imperative. This is not the current situation.
Establishment of a proper Youth and Family court, with an itinerant magistrate dedicated to this institution, who will preside over sessions in each district.
An increase of Probation Officers to serve the court
Providing a compilation of “Judges Rules” specifically for children designed to guide ethical standards for professionals.
Provide practice directions for operation of the Family Court, with specific relevance to children in need of care and protection.
Undertake a review and amendment of the Child Justice Act and the Children (Care and Adoption) Act. Both pieces of legislation, enacted in 2013 are currently the Authority for treating with children in conflict with the law and those in need of care and protection. Both lacunae riddled, not adapted to domestic realities and hinder practical application.
The Probation Service
The criminal court, in its dispensation of justice, places heavy reliance on the assistance of the probation service to achieve the aims of sentencing, especially in those cases which it is more expedient to impose alternatives to custody through community options.
A sentence on probation seeks to achieve the purpose of punishment, the rehabilitation of the offender, without inflicting on him the probable damage and taint inherent in imprisonment. The probationer is, instead, encouraged and helped to readjust himself, while living a normal life, to learn how to face and deal with problems.
The probation service, like the police, is an agent in the criminal justice system, with the aim of diverting offenders from custody. In the court setting, the service provides invaluable assistance to the bench in the form of social inquiry reports which provides bio-psychosocial information and the likeliness of a response to a particular sentence if a desired outcome is to be achieved.
The role of the probation service outside of the physical boundaries of the court extends to supervision of offenders in the community, in which situations, during a period between one and three years, the service advises, assists and befriends the probationer and through a process of mental calisthenics, the offender is challenged to redirect his life from offending behavior to meaningful and productive participation in nation building.
A fully staffed department with adequately trained officers must be of highest priority
Rehabilitation vs Punishment
Ever since its origins in the 1600’s, penal institutions have faced some of the most incisive and intense analyses, dissection and comment regarding their claim of rehabilitation. Over the past centuries the scrutiny has continued unabated.
The prison is a large, overcrowded, rundown, authoritative and bureaucratic structure, in which prisoners adapt to the culture of this environment through a process of prisonisation. Conformity with prison rules and code of behavior is often confused with rehabilitation.
While admittedly the prison has not in large measure been able to meet its goal of rehabilitation, the omission of well co-ordinated and structured thru care and after care programs compound the ineffectiveness to prevent recidivism.
The notion that a person, could be deterred, through punishment, by the deprivation of liberty, without exposure to benefit from capacity building and empowerment initiatives for life after incarceration, is an illusion and very destructive on the personality of those incarcerated. The longer the incarceration of the offender, the greater will be the degree of personality destruction.
New Horizons Rehabilitation Centre
Established under “A Child Development Project” and funded by the Caribbean Development Bank the centre was designed to offer rehabilitation services for children in conflict with the law.
The centre currently is not meeting the purpose for which it was established. As a result, residents when discharged, return in significant numbers, to a life before sentence.
Staff is not adequately trained to deal effectively and treat the juveniles admitted.
Children found to be in need of care and protection, having not committed any offence are routinely deprived of their liberty and kept institutionalized for lengthy periods. Children who have been subjects of parental neglect are placed in an environment in which they are required to mingle and interact with others on remand or sentenced for serious violent gun offences. This is in clear violation of the rights of those children.
There is currently a flawed admissions process, no thru care program and no follow up on aftercare.
The Centre is being operated without the support of legislation.
The name New Horizons was chosen to give assurance to residents that there were no barriers, no limits to their potential.
Upon admission, children would actively participate in decision making about their future. After careful assessment and diagnoses and testing, each resident would be provided every opportunity to follow his or her career path and with governments financial investment. Eg, upon admission, it is determined that the desire of child “X” to become a lawyer, included in the treatment plan of child “X,” will be the periodic and planned attachment to an attorney, not to be exposed to law at this early stage, but to get exposure to a disciplined environment and the positive influence of his mentor. This will be ongoing incentive for behaviour modification, through activities associated with his care/treatment plan; in other words making child “X” take responsibility for his future. Later during his attachment child “X” would be allowed to accompany his mentor to court, engaged in office attendant duties etc and provided a stipend.
Upon successful completion of his residency at the institution, and during the period of aftercare, the attachment will continue, while, with government’s subvention, child “X” will benefit from resources of the government to follow his dream. This is/was the intention of New Horizons! This concept captured the imagination of the Caribbean Development Bank, who proclaimed the Centre as a model for the region. This opportunity may have been lost.
If at and during the early formative years, the family fails in its duty to inculcate good societal norms and standards, and it flounders in an environment in which there are no rules, no standards, no early introduction to the concept of “right and wrong” where behaviour is unregulated and where only domestic violence and brutality reign, teachings of the church will have no impact and its seeds for the most part like the parable of the sower, will fall on rocky ground or among thorns with the same outcome.
Society would have had doses of the theories of Lombroso’s atavistic profile and Goddard’s “school of mental testers, Sutherland, Dukeim, Cohen and the several others but we are no closer to understanding the “cause” of crime. What is not disputed is that crime is caused by a multiplicity of factors, which must addressed in a multidisciplinary manner.