Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | Answers staring us in the face

Published:Monday | January 30, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Consider even a few of the most recent instances of crime. A teenage boy is caught with a powerful gun and a brace of ammunition near Coronation Market. You must have seen his picture - a swollen-faced, blood-spotted, clearly beaten child.

ACP Ealan Powell traces his background. Obviously an unwanted, undercared youth: his father dead and his mother reportedly unable to care for her children, living in extreme rural poverty. You complete the description; a pass-through school, illiterate, no supervision, underfed, probably tortured when you factor Herbert Gayle's undeniable statistics, a ready recruit for any gang, armed by any or many, given our near-total societal tolerance of, and fetish for, gun-toting, and looking for a victim to rob and kill.

So we arrest him, probably beat him to make him talk, lock him up with other hopeless or hardened boys, and, after probably a couple of years in custody, at a public cost multiples of what could have rescued his kind in the first instance, send him to a place of locked-down idleness for years, after which, unrehabilitated but with a record that will prevent any constructive life, he will emerge to kill and be killed.

Next, take the teenage youth, hands bound like how we truss men to go to the gallows at District Prison, with a bullet or two to his head, dumped on Eve Lane last week. Are any of our 'prassperity' growth czars or those crafting the education budget listening to the pointed intensity of his high-school principal?

This discarded corpse, latterly a boy who had been taught to sing about being "a bundle of potentiality", she says, was erratic in school attendance and behaviour, most often hungry and unkempt and demonstrably lacking in affirmation and attention at home, foisted on teachers, who, obsessed with curriculum, hopefully willing but hopelessly ill-equipped to save him from his (and our) final resting place.

It can be otherwise.

 

YOUTH TRAINING

 

A few years ago, I watched a group of the most vulnerable and dangerous inner-city youth being taken in by the engineering corps of the Jamaica Defence Force and put through a process of behaviour modification and skills training for a few months. The change in their attitudes, their self-respect and their personal discipline was dramatic.

Most have gone on to further training and employment, and as far as I can trace, none have veered into a life of crime. This kind of training should become a primary function for our army.

The Environmental Foundation of Jamaica, in conjunction with the Planning Institute and others, afforded a cohort of equally unattached men and women a programme of skills training and social regeneration in Parade Gardens some months ago with similar lasting effect. Half of the $800-million vote-buying scandal money could carry such a therapy to scores of other communities.

The previous administrations authorised HEART to afford from its very ample resources, a programme of basic skill training and personal discipline for 50 to 100 unattached, idle and dispirited youth in each constituency. The electoral calendar, intervened preventing the roll-out islandwide, but ask Audley Shaw, Richard Azan or Julian Robinson to evaluate the effect of even this minimal venture on those involved.

The young men pulled up their pants, the girls began to control their fertility as the real prospect and pathway to employment became a reality. That programme has, inexplicably but predictably, been scuttled.

The much-needed early stimulation project for weak families has not been properly funded and the revolutionising of the early childhood institutions with sustained emphasis on social intervention at the earliest age, trained teachers (why send home the JEEP teachers?) and proper nutrition every day, have all quailed, even as the warped outcomes multiply.

As many as three per cent of youths drop out of school each year. Where do we think they go?

 

NO DROPPING OUT ALLOWED

 

No child should be allowed to drop out of school without being tracked and treated by a combination of social workers, teachers and police. Social and cognitive remediation must take place before, not after, the high school experience.

Those leaving school without matriculable qualifications or a clear path to useful training and work must be enrolled in a mandatory National Youth Service, led by the soldiers and involving all the training and social agencies. If you must, ask the Israelis to help us to structure the venture.

The crisis of bloodletting and economic cramp demands that we radically reorient the job functions of social services, school personnel and security forces to afford strategies such as described. The budgets and scope of the HEART Trust and the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning, especially deserve drastic reworking. They are already getting paid, but are their tasks and productivity appropriately focused?

Obviously, these are but the skeleton proposals of what can be done, at this time and within existing resources. But don't you think being involved in any of these efforts might have saved us those two tragic scenarios described earlier, and the thousands of others?

And as this is written, Parliament quarrels with itself and we samfie ourselves into thinking that public-relations shows can indicate inclusive and sustainable growth.

I plead with us to see that the solutions - no silver bullets - ought to be tried and not in a tokenistic way. They are more affordable, as immediate and likely far more effective than the repression, to abolish INDECOM, build the new prison only when five in four is achieved, forget about human rights direction, that the local proto-Cheney-Trump lobby are recommending.

Let us change the direction of the discourse regarding crime.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.