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EDITORIAL - Don't reject policy study

Published:Sunday | January 26, 2014 | 1:00 AM

We are surprised at the defensiveness, hostility even, with which many in the education and political establishments have greeted the findings of a survey by the police that attempted to determine the social backgrounds of prison inmates, including their educational attainment and the schools they attended.

But worse is the attempt by some, from whom we expect better, to belittle the interventions in targeted schools, proposed by the education minister, Ronald Thwaites, to help deal with our crisis of social dysfunction, and how it manifests in the performance of too many of our educational institutions.

The problems are too great, and the need for fixes too urgent for us to engage in the usual orgy of denial, buck-passing and populist saccharine-peddling. Perpetuating and encouraging this sense of victimhood is in no one's best interest.

It is against this background that whatever may have been their motive, this newspaper welcomes the study by the police.

For, at the very least, we can be comforted that whatever may be the public's overarching perception of the constabulary, it has members capable of crafting surveys and presenting data which may inform strategy, and that they are not solely engaged in a jackbooted crime fighting.

It is important to acknowledge, too, that while the report names schools most frequently attended by the prisoners surveyed, it also points to several other factors that would have helped to shape the inmates.

INMATES' EDUCATION LEVEL

Given the near universal access to school in Jamaica, it is not surprising that more than 80 per cent of inmates had some form of secondary education. Nor should anyone be shocked that three-quarters of them either dropped out of school before grade 11, or without meeting benchmark standards for secondary education.

Around 60 per cent gave factors such as expulsion, financial difficulties, lack of a support structure, and gang/political involvement for leaving school early, although a surprisingly high number - one-third - reported that they grew up with both parents. But of the 55 per cent who either grew in single-parent households or with grandparents, 67 per cent of them were cared for by mothers. The father was absent.

By age 19, 37 per cent of the inmates had had their first arrest, with four per cent being in conflict with the law by 14. This brings us to Mr Thwaites' intervention.

Clearly, this survey, as almost every other study on crime in Jamaica, underlines the need for a broad range of strategies, including in reproductive health and parenting, to deal with the issues. But we are where we are and schools offer important intervention points at which to confront the glaring weaknesses in social relationships.

In that regard, some schools need it, or are better starting points than others. It is hardly surprising that most of the schools that were attended by the highest numbers of inmates are on the list of the weaker-performing schools.

But noting correlation demands more, such as the fact that they also happen to be mostly upgraded high schools, with fewer resources and are located in, or close to, inner-city communities with high levels of social stress. But appreciating these difficulties is also the more reason for their leadership to welcome the interventions, as well as outline their strategies for dealing with the crisis.

Peevish whingeing and claims that they are being set upon won't do.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.