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Horace Levy | Criminal! Wicked! But who’s really to blame?

Published:Wednesday | October 19, 2016 | 10:00 AM
Horace Levy

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 closed-door 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), community-building 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 Inter-American 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.

- Horace Levy is a human-rights activist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.