A FORMER British Government minister is holding up to Jamaica a strategy she used to slash domestic violence in the United Kingdom as a potential template for dealing with the crisis here, suggesting similar success would not only bring economic rewards but likely reduce perceived public clamour for capital punishment.
But Baroness Patricia Scotland, in Jamaica with former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss as part of a swing through the Caribbean promoting the case against the death penalty, made clear that the anti-violence strategy she proposes would not only have to be multi-sectoral, but demanded hard work.
OVER 1,000 MURDERS IN JA
Jamaica has more than a thousand murders annually and a homicide rate of around 45 per 100,000, placing it in the world's top five countries, per capita, for killings. Although Parliament in 2009 voted to retain capital punishment, there has been an effective moratorium on executions for more than 22 years.
There are no recent surveys on support for capital punishment for the latest of these, suggesting nearly two-thirds of the population backs the execution of murderers, down from over 80 per cent in the 1980s and early 1990s.
While making clear that she and Dreifuss were in Jamaica to "have a conversation" with various interests, rather than to tell "anyone how to run their affairs", Scotland suggested that capital punishment sometimes provides a 'real excuse for not addressing the real problems', including in their justice systems, faced by countries.
In the UK, however, where capital punishment was abolished nearly half a century ago, she was clear that its tackling domestic violence was necessary not only to ameliorate its social consequences, but also its economic impact.
"The economic cost to our country in 2003/2004 was £23 billion," the Labour Party peer said in an interview.
"We couldn't not do this. If you wanted to address the cost, you had to address this problem," she said.
The Dominica-born Scotland was for four years, up to 2007, Tony Blair's minister of state for criminal justice. It was during that period she tackled the looming problem of domestic violence in Britain.
By Scotland's account, when she took on the issue, a quarter of all violent crimes in the UK were domestic in nature. One in four women, nearly 17 per cent of British men and more than three-quarter million children were subject to domestic violence.
Further, 89 per cent of the women in prison had been sexually abused or suffered some other form of violence before they offended, as was the case with a third of all juvenile offenders. At the period, too, 49 women were killed in London at the hands of their partners and each one of those cost £1.1 million "to investigate, prosecute and conclude".
ISSUES TO BE ADDRESS
"If we wanted to change things, we had to address these issues, If we had to address it, you had to do it through education, through health, through housing, through the criminal justice system - we had to have a multi-faceted response," Scotland said.
Whitehall bureaucrats, however, felt that her targets were over-ambitious. Her response was to throw herself energetically into the effort.
"I chaired an inter-ministerial group with every single department around the table," said Scotland. "I chaired that group every single month for four years".
She said: "Other inter-ministerial groups met once a quarter and nobody did anything until the day before they turned up. I decided that my inter-ministerial team was going to be different because we were going to do things."
The upshot, according to Scotland, was a 64 per cent decline in domestic violence.
"Between 2003 and 2010 when I left government (as Gordon Brown's attorney general), the number of women who were killed in London was reduced to five."
In Jamaica, where criminal violence is estimated to deprive the economy of upwards of seven per cent of its potential value annually and the country face a Greek-style debt-crisis, incapacity to finance the extensive, multi-sector interventions proposed by Scotland is often raised as a constraint, although several broadly similar initiatives have been tried.
Scotland acknowledged that such efforts and are not easy. Indeed, she was told that her initiative would be funded from "existing resources" rather than new money.
"This is something that you have to do from where you are, not from where you dream of being," Scotland said. "It is a way to save money."
"For every pound I spent, we save six. When we reduced domestic violence across the board by 64 per cent, we saved seven billion pounds a year."
Scotland suggested that concomitant with the social strategy to reduce domestically related and interpersonal violence, which are estimated to account for more than half of the homicides in Jamaica, would be robust reform of the criminal justice system.
In her experience, Scotland said, "people want perpetrators of crime caught", their transgressions "fairly investigated, (and) robustly prosecuted and found guilty, punished. People are not necessarily saying I want to hang them. People are saying I want justice. I want this to stop. I want resolution."
Dreifuss acknowledged that while capital punishment may not be a deterrent to murder, neither was it unassailable that the opposite was true and that the abolition of capital punishment would automatically, and by itself, lead to a reduction in violence.
"But perhaps you reduce the climate of violence, the culture of violence, when you accept not to kill in the name of the country, in the name of the state," she said.
Capital punishment, she said, often represented a symbolic answer to a problem that often demanded comprehensive analysis. The society kills those "we can find and often we cannot find those who are really responsible".
Scotland believes that countries like Jamaica, dealing with the problem of high levels of violence and homicides should perhaps engage in a broad and deep debate, buttressed by empirical data, looking at the nature of crime, who is responsible and matters such as system flaws in the justice system.
People want to know the facts.
"Yet, I look at this debate (capital punishment) and that people are timorous about engaging in real conversation with ordinary, decent people," she said. "Discussion often lead people to a different place. But the depth of the conversation has to be there."