Violence interruption programme targets at-risk youths
Bolstered by the success of the violence-interruption programme in St Catherine North, the Peace Management Initiative (PMI), in collaboration with the Ministry of National Security's Crime Prevention and Community Safety arm, is ready to roll out in other parishes, with great emphasis to be placed on the volatile St James.
The violence-interruption programme was started in 2015 and is tailored from the cure violence model that is utilised in North America. The programme focuses largely on high-risk youths, ages 15 to 29 years old, who are deemed to be violence producers or potential violence producers.
"We are seeking to engage those youths who have already gone down the wrong road," Damian Hutchinson, executive director of the PMI (Kingston), said. "So a significant part of our work, apart from treating with conflicts at the community level, has to do with transitioning these youths out of the situation that they find themselves in.
"The five priority areas that we are looking at are St James, Westmoreland, Kingston, Clarendon and St Catherine. These five parishes currently produce seven out of every 10 homicides across the country."
According to policy director at the Ministry of National Security's Crime Prevention and Community Safety Division, Courtney Brown, since the violence-interruption programme started last year, over 3,000 youths have been engaged, with 2,100 of these being from St Catherine North and the rest from St James.
Approximately 800 of the youths engaged are said to have indicated that they want to be involved in some form of alternative treatment - majority of whom are from St Catherine, as St James has proven to be a bit more challenging.
"The organisation (PMI) has a programme now in St James and that programme is in the early days, but we want to achieve the similar goal of transitioning these youths out of gang activity," Brown told The Sunday Gleaner.
"The St James programme is a little bit more complicated because of the lottery scamming and so on, which brings an altogether different challenge to the table. But we have had good feedback to date from the young men there. A lot of them are seeking alternatives, and as the police become more successful in dismantling elements of the scamming trade there, you will have more idle youths who need to be engaged and, therefore, there is a thrust in St James as well."
Brown said while they do not want to focus on western Jamaica at the expense of other parishes, strong emphasis must be placed on St James, as it has the highest murder rate.
"This is not a recent phenomenon, it (St James) has had the highest murder rate for some time now, and we know the theories are that it is connected to the lottery scam," he shared.
"When things are so deeply rooted, it takes a little while to change culture, to change perspectives. There is hardly any alternative in a so-called programme that can compete with the money people get from lottery scam. It has to be a combination where it becomes too hot for them to continue while at the same time working with the families and schools on values, attitudes and on positive relations before they get into scamming."
With close to 60 per cent of inmates in adult institutions being school dropouts, there is also a plan to focus on teenagers and offer them psychosocial support.
"We are getting some support from UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) to help strengthen the capacity, and one of the things we will be doing is to pay a little bit more attention to under-18s," Hutchinson revealed.
"I would say currently we have about 1,500 youths who we have engaged, and of that number, 75 per cent of them dropped out of school and about 80 per cent of them cannot read and write effectively."