Tue | Jan 26, 2021

Robert Thompson | Military service could save wayward youth

Published:Friday | November 8, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Before dismissing the Hon Ronald Thwaites’ suggestion of mandatory military service as politically unwise, I suggest we pause and reflect on the long-term social benefits of mandatory military service. We must all agree that saving our unattached youth from a path of destruction is a matter for critical national attention.

Over two decades ago, while serving at the St Andrew Parish Church, I wrote to the then prime minister expressing concern that the multiple voluntary initiatives to intervene on behalf of the unattached young men on our streets required a coordinated centre that could give policy direction.

Resulting from this appeal was the ‘Possibility Programme’ directed from Jamaica House. There were three elements to the programme: a centre for care and evaluation, led by a trained social worker, operated at the St Andrew Care Centre at Ambrook Lane in St Andrew; and a vocational centre at 10 Hope Road. Both facilities were built on lands given by St. Andrew Parish Church. The third element in this trinity was a behaviour modification, a six- to ten-week programme designed and led by the army.

There were several stakeholders – including the YMCA and security forces – who participated and contributed to the success of the programme. I believed it worked for a while when unattached youth were involved with infractions on the streets and, after being processed by the police, they were taken to the care centre for evaluation. This included family background checks and, where possible, family members were invited in and given the necessary social and parental support. The missing component was the behaviour-modification element to which Deacon Thwaites referred in his insightful article published earlier this week in The Gleaner.


We may wish to consider modifying our understanding of what ‘mandatory military service’ will mean for a society in which there are high levels of mistrust between the security forces and members of the community.

Notwithstanding, as the article suggests, the military has the institutional framework to provide the kind of structure that could assist our detached youth to acquire the necessary disciplines that could redefine their future. But this is not the work of the army and security forces alone.

Were we to recapture something of the original concept of the Possibility Programme, where stakeholders within civil society partner with government agencies in taking responsibility for, and therefore being accountable for solving this national emergency, we may begin to see a different result to a national crime plan.

Rt Rev Robert Thompson is the Suffragan Bishop of Kingston. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com