Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter
Youth crime is costing Jamaica billions of dollars each year and choking the life out of the economy.
That is one of the major findings of a new study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which has confirmed that crime is having a devastating impact on the economies of Jamaica and other Caribbean states.
According to UNDP Caribbean Human Development Report 2012, launched in Trinidad yesterday, Jamaica has the highest number of youth convicted of crime in the region.
The report noted that Jamaica spends more than US$529 million (J$46.5 billion) every year as a direct public and private cost to fight youth crime.
This is calculated based on direct expenditure to fight crime and potential revenue which stays away from Jamaica because of the criminals.
It is estimated that because of youth crime, Jamaica loses US$4.3 million in potential investment each year while a further US$95 million, which would flow into Jamaica through tourism, goes elsewhere.
The UNDP report estimates that youth crime in Jamaica is costing the country as much as 3.21 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP).
According to the report, "Crime has become one of the main challenges threatening economies and livelihoods in Caribbean countries, but the right mix of policies and programmes can halt the problem."
"Overall, youth crime is costing CARICOM countries between 2.8 and four per cent of GDP," stated the report, as it noted the number of criminal gangs operating throughout the region.
According the the report, with the exception of Barbados and Suriname, homicide rates - including gang-related killings - have increased substantially in the last 12 years across the Caribbean, while falling or stabilising in other parts of the world.
The report also noted that gang-related homicides in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are "substantial and increasing".
In 2006, Jamaica experienced 1,303 homicides, of which 32.5 per cent were gang-related. By 2009, the number of homicides had increased by 377 with 48.1 per cent gang-related.
In 2006, Trinidad and Tobago experienced 371 homicides with 26.4 per cent gang-related. By 2009, the twin-island republic reported 506 homicides with 34.8 per cent gang-related.
Need to rethink approach
"This report stresses the need to rethink our approaches to tackling crime and violence and providing security on the ground," said Helen Clark, UNDP administrator, during the launch yesterday.
"We need to follow approaches that are centred on citizen security and address the causes of this recent increase in violent crime, including social, economic, and political exclusion," added Clark.
The report recommended that Caribbean governments implement youth crime prevention through education, as well as provide employment opportunities that target the marginalised urban poor.
It stated that a shift in focus is needed from a state protection approach to one that focuses on citizen security and participation, promoting law enforcement that is fair, accountable, and more respectful of human rights.
Among the recommendations in the report is for Jamaica and other regional states to achieve a better balance between legitimate law enforcement and preventive measures, with a stronger focus on prevention.