Crim­i­nal! Wicked! But who’s re­ally to blame?

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Ho­race Levy Ho­race Levy is a hu­man­rights ac­tivist. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

WITH THE hor­ror of the March Pen scene vivid be­fore our eyes, the words ‘crim­i­nal’, ‘evil’, ‘wicked’ are on many lips, and pun­ish­ment, at least in the next life, is read­ily in­voked. But crim­i­nals are not born that way. Also on our minds should be how they got that way, whether that route can be blocked, and how those al­ready on it can be turned on to an­other road.

In 10 com­mu­ni­ties in and around Span­ish Town in St Cather­ine North, the vi­o­lence in­ter­rup­tion and coun­selling teams of the Peace Man­age­ment Ini­tia­tive (East) are en­gag­ing some­what over 2,000 highly at-risk young peo­ple, mostly male, between the ages of 15 and 29. Here is a pro­file of such youth. It is taken from a com­mu­nity in the Kingston Met­ro­pol­i­tan Area (KMA), which shall be name­less. But the pat­tern in St Cather­ine, Claren­don, and with few ad­di­tions, West­more­land and St James, is the same. Of 56 youth in­ter­viewed:

75 per cent had a friend killed in gang vi­o­lence.

73 per cent dropped out of school through lack of money or com­mu­nity vi­o­lence.

66 per cent have seen per­sons in their com­mu­nity han­dling guns.

60 per cent can­not read or write well (func­tion­ally il­lit­er­ate).

58 per cent had a fam­ily mem­ber killed in gang vi­o­lence.

55 per cent grew up in a sin­gle-par­ent house­hold.

48 per cent were in­car­cer­ated at least once.

46 per cent has fam­ily in­volved in gang ac­tiv­ity.

43 per cent has had no for­mal skills train­ing.

39 per cent has friends in­volved in gang ac­tiv­ity.

The huge dan­ger, in­deed like­li­hood, of a large num­ber of young men on such a track end­ing up spend­ing more time be­hind bars for se­ri­ous crime should be ev­i­dent. It is vir­tu­ally as­sured by the en­vi­ron­ment. How they got there and what must be done to pre­vent oth­ers from fol­low­ing in their foot­steps has been worked out. Much has been writ­ten on it. What is clear, at the same time, is the im­per­a­tive to im­me­di­ately de-risk, reroute, main­stream. And this is where the PMI has come in.

KEEP­ING THE LID ON IT

The PMI’s var­ied but sys­tem­atic menu of tools, skil­fully em­ployed, has proven its value – corner rea­son­ings, con­tacts and rap­port with key in­di­vid­u­als on a daily ba­sis, in­for­mal me­di­a­tions stop­ping con­flicts on the front end (1,222 in one month, from child abuse and part­ner beat­ing, to gam­bling and mug­ging) and closed­door me­di­a­tions, case fil­ing of the most highly at-risk (over 20% of the 2,000+) and re­fer­ral to other pro­grammes, com­mu­nity-safety groups, women’s em­pow­er­ment groups (five so far), ther­apy ses­sions for chil­dren and adults trau­ma­tised by vi­o­lent losses (which re­duces reprisals), com­mu­ni­ty­build­ing cul­tural and sport ac­tiv­i­ties, map­ping of hot spots, doc­u­men­ta­tion of every me­di­a­tion, meet­ing and ac­tiv­ity and use of these data to form daily and weekly plans, as well as for reg­u­lar re­views and analy­ses, and much more, es­pe­cially ad hoc.

How­ever, the PMI’s fund­ing, through the Min­istry of Na­tional Se­cu­rity from the State’s sources – the In­terAmer­i­can De­vel­op­ment Fund, Depart­ment for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment, and Cana­dian In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Agency – is not only in­suf­fi­cient for full-scale in­ter­rup­tion in Claren­don and the West, while keep­ing the lid on it in the KMA. It is also not mov­ing as quickly as it should through its chan­nel, the Cit­i­zen Se­cu­rity and Jus­tice Pro­gramme. This ve­hi­cle, while for years PMI’s help­ful part­ner, is ill-suited to host the rapid and con­tin­u­ous flow of funds that is now re­quired.

In the West, there­fore, a full-scale as­sault is yet to be launched. If the in­creased fi­nanc­ing be­ing pro­posed in some quar­ters for the Min­istry of Na­tional Se­cu­rity is go­ing to be used once again mainly for more po­lice equip­ment and po­lice posts, the mur­der cy­cle will con­tinue and the dan­ger to tourism will not di­min­ish. That much is cer­tain.

GUEST COLUM­NIST

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