Fri | Dec 9, 2016

‘We are locking up our bright people’ – Walcott

Published:Sunday | October 26, 2014 | 12:00 AMAndrew Harris
Contributed Members of the Rotary Club of Trafalgar New Heights, Michele Salmon (left) and Fabian Brown, engage children from Maverley, St Andrew in an activity during a health fair last year. The club will be staging a performing arts camp during the Christmas holidays to engage children from low income communities that experience violence.
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One of the country's leading psychiatrists, Dr Geoffrey Walcott, is attributing the country's social and economic problems to the fact that many of its most intelligent people are in prison.

Walcott has also expressed concern that the conditions facing children in some inner-city communities and the failures in the education system are creating criminals.

Addressing members of the Rotary Club of Trafalgar New Heights in Kingston recently, Walcott, the head of the Kingston and St Andrew Mental Health Services, pointed to a recent study of the prison population which showed that 15 per cent of the nation's convicted murderers had an intelligence quotient (IQ) that ranged from superior to very superior.

"That's double the normal population! So bright people in our country become murderers and that's a huge problem," declared Walcott, as he noted that a high percentage of the society is dysfunctional.

"We have a society that

is violent and socially dysfunctional," said Walcott, as he pointed to the country's position as the sixth most violent in the world in terms of the numbers of murders per capita.

He noted that the murders committed in Jamaica tend to be located in specific geographic areas in especially urban areas, which are home to a significant portion of the population.

PLACE TO ESCAPE

"These communities create a haven for child abuse and neglect ... and then the children, who have high rates of psychological trauma, become non-functional. They drop out of school, they become pregnant before the age of 16, and when this happens these persons are not going to become functional members of society.

"And that is the great difficulty that we are having. We are actually creating a factory for dysfunctional, duplicitous and criminalised people," underscored Walcott.

He argued that traumatised children are further frustrated by the education system, which fails to engage them because the system has not evolved to meet the needs of the society.

"When you have 40 to 50 per cent of eight-year-old school-children who are not able to read and write, they are going to become criminals because that's the social developmental path they are going to be channelled to.

"Not being able to read and write is not an indication of their intelligence. It's an indication of how poorly the academic system connects with that child."

Walcott is prescribing psychological therapies combined with the arts and culture as an effective means of engaging young children in school to prevent them from falling through the cracks.

Along with Professor Fredrick Hickling, Walcott is working as co-principal investigator of the Dream-A-World Cultural Therapy intervention, funded by Grand Challenges Canada.

The project is a collaboration involving the Caribbean Institute of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at The University of the West Indies (UWI), the South East Regional Health Authority and international partners from McGill University, Canada.

Dream-A-World Cultural Therapy is being used in four primary schools in Kingston and St Andrew and has been slated for expansion by the Ministry of Education to 35 primary schools across eastern parishes to improve the academic and social outcomes of needy students 7-10 years old.

"We use the Dream-A-World Cultural Therapy to address the needs of the eight-year-old and we work through institutions which every child is a part of. When you look at the prison studies, 87 per cent of the incarcerated criminals studied went to primary schools.

"So if you can divert them at that critical developmental seven-to-10-year-old stage, you can actually divert most of them from becoming criminals," he said.

However, Walcott is mindful that while the programme works with children, a major challenge to be faced is the reality that the students must live and function in their dysfunctional communities.

"So you are left with the question of how are you going to fix the adults who are there?" he said.

Against that background, Walcott noted that a similar approach was being piloted to engage adults in high-risk communities in using cultural therapy, working through the Kingston and St Andrew Public Health Services to reach community members.

A pilot programme has been started in the inner-city community of Seaview Gardens in west St Andrew.

"Because of how many inner-city communities are set up, it's very difficult for many to have access outside of these communities. What we want to do is create the environment for them to showcase their talent and to fix the pathological social engagement that happens with the adults in the same way you fix what happens with the children."