Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Editorial | Tackle the deeper causes of crime

Published:Tuesday | February 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Paula Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions, and her collaborators, should be thanked for their public spiritedness in issuing a disquisition on the interchangeability of the terms 'preventive detention' and 'preventative arrest' and how they are permitted at common law in several bits of Jamaican statute and covered by the Constitution.

That, however, was not the substance of the debate over what has been promoted as the core of the Holness administration's recently rolled-out crime-fighting strategy, of which we are sure Ms Llewellyn is aware.

In fact, this newspaper previously acknowledged that the Constitution, at Section (14) (1) (f), allows for a person to be deprived of liberty on, among other things, "... reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence; or (ii) where it is reasonably necessary to prevent his committing an offence".

It is for the latter reason particularly, especially to prevent the escalation of domestic quarrels and, according to the national security minister, Robert Montague, "to prevent a major crime happening" that a perceived aggressor might be detained for "a cooling-off period". Most people's concern, however, are twofold. One is the potential for this policy to evolve into mission-creep, leading to a kind of back-door reinstatement of the notoriously ineffective Suppression of Crime Act, two decades after its repeal. The second is the absence, so far, of a declared comprehensive programme to tackle crime and its root causes.

Jamaica's crisis of crime is long-standing and well-known. The country's homicide rate is 50 per 100,000 population, or two-thirds above the level at which University of the West Indies social anthropologist Herbert Gayle pointed out countries are usually categorised at being in civil war. In the 1970s, the Suppression of Crime Act gave police wide powers of search and arrest, but did little to curb criminal violence.

Instead, most people agree, it reinforced in the constabulary a jack-booted approach to policing and caused a deterioration of whatever investigative skills they previously possessed. That it was the attorney general, Marlene Malahoo Forte - who last summer suggested that fighting crime might mean "fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed to Jamaicans may be abrogated, abridged or infringed" - unveiled the new crime-fighting strategy reprised old fears, which the administration has sought to ameliorate.


What we now await is the bigger picture, to deal with gangs and the social sepsis that makes them an attractive option to young people, in a situation where between 120,000 and 140,000 Jamaicans aged 14-24 are unattached, neither in school nor in jobs.

In recent articles in this newspaper, Dr Gayle argued that while dramatic action may lead to a short-term suppression of violence, it may take up to five years of hard, structured effort to begin to see sustainable change. Jamaica's circumstance is exacerbated by the peculiarly harsh situation facing boys: they account for up to 95 per cent of child victims of brutal violence and homicides; are killed more than girls and women combined; are up to five times more likely than girls to be consistently hungry; and up to quarter of those who live in the inner-city communities or are from working class homes hustle on the streets.

The Government's Budget for the new fiscal year proposes a J$2-billion, or 39 per cent increase, in cash transfers to families under PATH welfare, but that can't be the whole strategy.