by Judy M McCutcheon
What causes a child of 12 to get out of his bed at 11:00 pm, leave his house, put on a mask and go rob a business place? What makes someone viciously strangle a teenage girl? And what makes an officer charged with the duty to protect and serve, abuse that duty, and be investigated for sexual misconduct?
Why are these the headlines that seem to be trending now? What is the cause of all this and what does it mean for our society and our economy? The Caribbean, especially the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and St Kitts have been riddled with crime and a great majority of these crimes are perpetrated by youth, and on the flip side of this, youth are also the victims of these crimes. Over the last 2 decades or so, the Caribbean as a region has seen an upsurge in criminal activities, linked particularly to the drug trade. Our once safe and secure heaven is now a haven for some of the most notorious criminals this side of the border. But what does that mean for our pristine and beautiful Pure Grenada?
I remember when I moved here in 2009. My kids were only 4 and 5 years of age and 2 things stuck out to me. The first thing was the cleanliness of the city and secondly, how safe I felt. I always thought that this is a remarkably safe place to raise kids and I still think to a great extent that it is. However, why are we at this point? I want us to understand that this could be a crucial turning point for our beloved country. In 2011, I had a frightening and firsthand experience with crime and criminals, only that the criminal was not really a criminal, but a boy of 16. He broke into our home while we were asleep and one of my daughters who at the time would have been 6 years old, got up just about the time he entered their room. The police responded quickly and were able to apprehend him and because we were in the house at the time of the robbery, the charge was escalated. Since he was only 16 years old, I inquired about a juvenile centre and what would happen to him. I was told that at that time there was no juvenile centre. I was heartbroken to think that this young man who in my estimation only needed the proper guidance and resources to set him on the right path, would have to spend in excess of 5 years with hardened criminals. So, I did what I thought best and asked for a reduced sentence with the hope that he would get some help.
Fast forward to 2018 and a 12-year-old boy is now on lockdown for robbery. What are the real causes of these situations? Is it a consequence of joblessness and poverty? Is it a lack of parental supervision? What about the church and the community? Are we suffering from social apathy, that we no longer care to be our brothers’ keeper? If you take a look at societies such as Trinidad and Tobago, you will recognise a similar pattern. There were social apathy and a lack of caring for each other just before they were plunged into a crime-ridden society, where the most hideous crimes are committed sometimes by people who are not old enough to vote. I have a friend who works for the justice department in The Cayman Islands and she was telling me that when they have a juvenile offender — and get this, they refer to them as clients — they treat each case on an individual basis, they do not apply a cookie cutter solution. The clients are assessed on a psychology level to find out the root cause. They collect data from the schools, from the homes, and from the community to get a good understanding of what is happening. They operate with the juveniles from a human rights premise. They go on the assumption that the client wants a good education, wants to gain some sort of skill or profession and wants a good life. The clients are constantly reassessed to ensure that the treatment is the right one, with the intention to treat and support as opposed to punishing. This is a fantastic system with the ultimate goal of having these kids not be repeat offenders, but productive members of society.
A crime-ridden society affects the industry of that society. Think about investors, think about the fact that we are heavily dependent on tourism, think about the fact that a crime-ridden society could cause your best and brightest minds to leave. Think about the effects of brain drain on the economy. Think about the effects of crime on you raising your children in freedom. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we do not become a state where criminal activity is the order of the day. Therefore, I ask the question again, what will become of this 12-year-old boy? Will he be placed in an institution run by people with the same skill set as those that run our prisons? Will he be warehoused along with the hardened criminals or will we find the political will to set up a system that looks at these offenders as needing help and support and put systems in place to provide that support? Will our penal system see him rehabilitated and assimilated back into society? After all, he is a boy of only 12.
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Judy McCutcheon is a partner in the firm Go Blue Inc, a Human Development Company. www.goblueinc.net