Curing a curse - Son of convicted gunman treading the same path
His father was for years Public Enemy Number One and topped the most wanted list for several months, as he was linked to numerous violent gun crimes. Now barely in his teens, he is at a juvenile remand centre awaiting sentencing, having pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.
In September of last year, the youth was found with a Ruger 9 millimetre pistol along with a magazine containing 12 rounds of ammunition in his knapsack during a routine search at the Corporate Area high school which he attended.
The incident occurred just two weeks after the teenager's uncle was shot and killed while conducting a prayer meeting at his church. The uncle, who was a pastor, was said to have shared a close relationship with the young man.
Another of the child's uncles is also serving time for murder.
Professor of psychiatry at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr Frederick Hickling, is not surprised by the nature of this case, acknowledging that, based on studies, it is quite likely that the offspring of criminal parents may also find themselves travelling the same path if they are exposed to the same environment.
"Although there has been no research on this here in Jamaica or the Caribbean, there is extensive evidence from studies internationally that there is a link between parental criminality and their children's criminality," Hickling told The Sunday Gleaner.
"It is quite likely, especially in the Jamaican context of garrison communities, where socialisation is an important factor in a child's behaviour," Hickling said.
It is for this reason that UWI lecturer and consultant psychiatrist, Dr Clayton Sewell, is calling for more to be done to help children such as this young man, who is now to be sentenced for a similar crime for which his father is serving 20 years at hard labour.
The juvenile was granted bail when he appeared before the court, with one of the conditions being that he was not to return to his community. It is understood that he went to stay with his grandmother in a rural district, but she was unable to manage him and surrendered his bond. His mother then stepped forward to be his surety, but also experienced challenges and had to turn him in.
The teenager's attorney, Peter Champagne, confirmed to The Sunday Gleaner that there were issues with his surety.
"There were certain challenges in relation to his living accommodation," Champagne said. "So that was brought to the attention of the court, and as a result of that, his bail was revoked. In any event, it is not unusual for when someone pleads guilty, and if they are on bail, for there to be a revocation, pending sentencing, because the dynamics have changed."
The youngster is scheduled to be sentenced this month, following the completion of a social report enquiry. The enquiry requires social workers to have interviews with the child and persons within the community, and then write a report. This will then be presented to the judge and the defence attorney, and used to assist in handing down the sentence.
"I went and visited him recently and he appears to be contrite and remorseful, and we are anxious to have the sentencing phase completed," Champagnie said.
Sewell believes that until something is put in place to intervene in these children's lives from the moment their parents or guardians run afoul of the law for serious crimes, then there is the risk of more cases such as this.
"The reality is that we don't have a lot of resources dedicated to providing intervention for individuals like that," said the consultant psychiatrist. "In my view, as part of the restorative justice approach, once you have close relatives of children who are convicted for serious offences, there should be social intervention for not only the victims and the families of the victims, but also for family members of perpetrators. There really isn't much that exists and there is a definite need for it."
JUVENILE CUSTODIAL POPULATION
According to the 2015 Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica, at the end of the year, the juvenile custodial population was 240 (males accounted for 223). Of this number, 100 were on correctional orders, 131 on remand and the remaining nine were offered special early release. A further 76 individuals (68 males) were admitted to the island's juvenile institutions.
Chief executive officer of the Child Development Agency (CDA), Rosalee Gage-Grey, is of the view that these children need psychosocial support, which her team currently provides through a memorandum of understanding signed with the correctional services.
She, however, agrees that more needs to be done to help the children of criminals before they, too, end up in conflict with the law.
"Usually (with) those men, their children don't see them as such (criminals)," Gage-Grey reasoned. "Until the man or woman is incarcerated, it is then that the separation issues and such will cause them to have psychosocial issues, so I would agree that they need some support."
Commissioner of Corrections Ina Hunter-Fairweather explained that a holistic approach is engaged in helping the juveniles once they are remanded, as they are exposed to educational, developmental and recreational programmes as well as skills training.
She pointed out that it was outside of her team's remit to take proactive action to assist the children of convicted criminals and, hence, such action would require a more collective approach.
"If it is that we are going to be targeting those children of the incarcerated, it would really require a broad approach, because it would have to involve the CDA, community-based organisations and corrections," Hunter-Fairweather said.
The Reverend Stevenson Samuels of the Escarpment Road New Testament Church of God, based in Hermitage, believes the Church also has a significant role to play in rescuing those at-risk children. He said his church was already active in this regard, but needs to forge partnerships with other organisations to achieve greater effectiveness.
"There needs to be some type of collaborative effort between the church and the penal system," Samuels said. "Churches are doing a lot of things but I think sometimes these individual programmes don't work well. It needs to be more strategic, thought through, reflective, and also inter-institutional within its nature."