ANY NUMBER of other Caribbean nations, Jamaica has in
recent times been struggling with the problem of serious crime and
violence. At the end of 1999 the number of murders in this nation
of 2.5 million stood at 849, more than twice the number two decades
ago, for an estimated homicide rate of close to 30 per 100,000 people-more
than twice that for certain large metropolitan cities. In a 17-day
period from June 21, to July 7, 1999, 66 people were killed violently
across the island, 22 of them having died in less than a week (The
Daily Gleaner, July 8, 1999). And these figures do not include an
excessive number of police killings, which have also been on the
ALTHOUGH THE NUMBERS of serious crimes are at all time
highs, the national debate and concern about crime is not new. Since
the mid-1970s successive governments have, in response to "crime
waves" and subsequent massive outcries, set up numerous civilian
crime commissions and task forces. They have also sought, more often
than not, to institute special police-military operations to deal
with crime "outbreaks." This latter, dominant tendency, we believe,
represents an integral part of the country's persistent high-crime
dilemma. It demonstrates pervasive reliance on traditional and generally
non-productive measures; such as:
* new legislation
* further centralization of
law enforcement operations
* more intimidating policing
(which, ironically, often comes down hardest on the law-abiding
members of the society).
WE DO NOT want, nor is it our
intention, to negate or undermine previous efforts. On the contrary,
we endorse and are in firm agreement with the yet to be fully implemented
recommendations submitted in the 1993 "Report of the National Task
Force on Crime," the oft-referred to "Wolfe Report."
BUT, GOOD INTENTIONS aside,
serious crimes have risen steadily since the early 1970s. The present
generation of Jamaicans cannot recall, in their lifetimes, a time
when Jamaica was not troubled by and not preoccupied with the problem
of high crime and violence. Violent crime is, in the year 2000,
among the top most worrying concerns among the nation's citizens.
Especially worrisome have been reliable reports of increase in police
and official corruption (from top to bottom), the seeming intensification
of bits and pieces of the illegal drug trade on the island, and
of alarming trends in contract killings related to Jamaica's integration
into global narcotics trafficking.
AS TEACHERS, ACADEMICS and academic
administrators, representing a wide cross-section of disciplines,
we respectfully offer to the nation a perspective on crime that
is inspired by our tradition of learning and debate. We firmly believe
that the time is right for what we are calling transformative thinking
and a transformative approach to the problem of serious crime in
Jamaica. Transformation is about change; it begins, importantly,
with having the will and the courage to change.
CRIME AND THE destruction it
brings raise for us fundamental questions about the nature of personal
responsibility, community, family, and the nature of the society
we've been trying to create for the almost 40 years of national
independence. The goal we seek from individual and collective engagement
in the transformation process is sustainable peace. This will involve
processes of profound change as communities and the political directorate
seek to transform situations characterized by fear and conflict
into environments in which reconciliation, social justice and genuine
participative democracy can take root. To that end, we are calling
here for establishment of a Peace Institute (elaborated on later
in this document). Among a number of other necessary things the
Peace Institute would: § facilitate dialogue at different levels
and sectors of the society that are in conflict § help develop and
enhance indigenous peacemaking capacities § facilitate peace-oriented
development work amongst grassroots organizations.
A TRANSFORMATIVE APPROACH, by
insisting on the linkage between social structures and crime, envisions
transformational change in these structures-be they economic, political,
family, environmental, educational, or cultural-as fundamental ways
to prevent crime. We approach this topic, however, with caution
and modesty. The ways to overcome crime and violence are not simple.
IN KEEPING WITH OUR vision we
offer the following proposals to both the nation's political directorate
and civil society as steps in the transformative process. Some of
the steps can be taken immediately; others will take a while. 1.
Intensify efforts toward social and economic justice while finding
ways to grow the economy.
OUR LEADING ASSERTION is that
in order to effectively reduce over the long haul violent predatory
crime, the political directorate as well as sectors within civil
society (e.g., employers) will have to substantively demonstrate,
perhaps as never before, dedicated commitment to reducing the nation's
glaring social and economic inequalities. Specifically we call attention
to the following:
i. the steady rise in the nation's violent crime rate is highly
correlated, over time, with standard indicators of economic disparity,
with high unemployment rates among well-defined populations being
only one variable in a lengthy causal chain.
ii. high levels of serious crime is also strongly associated with
the high proportion of the population that does not (or is unable
to) participate meaningfully in the society, and which consequently
shares a disproportionately tiny fraction of the nation's wealth
iii. it is this structural condition of mass social and economic
disfranchisement that is the major source of much serious crime
- from formation of warring urban gangs, to acts of wanton violence
iv. miserable social and economic conditions make for miserable
family life and, consequently, for neglectful parenting, which is
the closest link to crime and delinquency in a sequence of other
factors. Government and solidarity organizations must therefore
seek to develop new means and methods for not only promoting traditional
family values but for building and supporting strong families.
WE CITE THIS while acknowledging
that a significant portion of the crime committed in the society-so
called "white collar" crimes-demonstrate no visible connection to
poverty, deprived economic circumstance or "weak" family structure.
2. Transform garrison political culture and praxis.
WE MAKE AN unequivocal call
for change from the present political practice of the two major
political parties doing little to discourage (perhaps even encouraging)
warring inner-city factions fighting and killing each other over
spoils and "scarce benefits." All political parties should instead
encourage the building of alliances and coalitions among people
who are commonly oppressed. The Wolf Report admonishes: "Politicians
must not only pay lip service to, but must also become actively
involved in the eradication of a political arena where gun slingers
establish and operate tribal boundaries." 3. Legal justice must
be made real in practice and in appearance.
TIME AND AGAIN, in surveys,
studies and media reports, the urban poor have said that it is entirely
at them that police have trained their guns; and that they are the
objects of tougher enforcement measures whenever there's heightened
concern over crime. The high numbers of extra-judicial killings
(at an estimated rate of 100 to 150 per year for the past three
or so years), and reliable stories of police abuse and excessive
use of force in urban ghetto areas, support this contention.
IF LAW ENFORCEMENT is to receive
the full, sustained support of all segments of the society, justice
in the courts and on the streets will not only have to be real;
it will also have to appear real. This will require extensive reform
in key sectors of law enforcement and the judiciary, where what
are needed over the long term are: i. major redefinition in the
relationship between police and citizen, so that all citizens will
receive greater respect from the police ii. greater accountability
of police agencies to the communities they serve, which will require
among other things concentrated movement toward relevant models
of community policing iii. increase in number of police officers,
especially in light of credible threats to national security due
to heavy narcotics trafficking-doing so, though, while educating
new recruits in matters of human relations and acceptable police
conduct iv. measures for bringing the court system closer to the
ALONG THESE LINES, we also hold
that if the system of justice is to remain consistently credible,
all classes of criminal wrongdoers will have to be held responsible
for their wrongdoing. This goes especially for white-collar offenders
and corrupt public officials, whose misdeeds are often several times
more costly to the nation than that of the average street-corner
or gully thug. We cannot continue with the appearance of a dual
system of laws and justice: one for the poor, and another for the
well heeled and the well connected. 4. Develop creative ways to
transform the pent-up energies of our people from destructive manifestations
into productive activities.
OUR PEOPLE HAVE few available
means through which to express, for example, their much-vilified
aggressiveness-a normative trait that can lead to excellence in
sports but also to violence on the road, in public places and in
the home. Thoughtful attention ought therefore to be given to establishing,
on national scale, ongoing programs of cultural therapy, practiced
in safe and non-threatening places. These would function as non-sectarian,
non-partisan "therapeutic communities": alternately as places of
excellence, centers of healing and sites of engagement, where people
may express freely and constructively ideas and energy. 5. Transform
education and role of educational system.
A MAJOR SHORTCOMING of the educational
system that we see having a direct bearing on the extent of serious
crime is that concepts intrinsic to nation-building, and vociferously
propagated at the national civic level-such as tolerance for diversity,
cultivation of civic ethic and communitarian values-are not apparent
in the behaviors of most school leavers. Needed over the long haul
is serious, contemplative revision of educational curricula (to
ask in effect, "What are we really teaching our children?") at all
levels, to ensure that students are as equipped at responsible communitarian
practice as they are with essential academic skills.
OVER AND BEYOND that, the broad
masses of the Jamaican people are in need of educated ways to deal
effectively with deep-rooted problems of self-hate, lack of self-worth,
depression and identity. Problems associated with low self-esteem
and under valuing of self (frequently because of race), among young
males in particular, often have pushed youngsters into acts of brutality
against others and increasingly into suicide. 6. Local media, especially
television, must change the way it reports and presents crime stories.
CHEAP SENSATIONALISM CHARACTERIZES
much of what passes for TV news reporting on incidents of violent
crime. Exploitative reportage of crime stories further dehumanizes
victims. It has the tendency to inflame without really informing.
And, more dangerously, it provokes unwarranted fear in the citizenry
at large. We call upon all local media to engage in more responsible
journalism on the matter of crime. 7. Support localized efforts
at peacekeeping, peacemaking and community justice.
GOVERNMENT DOES NOT have all the answers to crime, neither
should it have the final say-so on what to do about crime. Grassroots
initiatives directed at fostering long-term peace between rival
gangs and at restoring, through community and restorative justice,
bonds sundered by crime should be endorsed, encouraged and facilitated.
RESTORATIVE JUSTICE SEEKS to
redefine the roles and goals of criminal justice agencies to include
a broader mission: to prevent crime, address local social problems
and conflicts, and to involve neighborhood residents in planning
and decision-making. Both restorative and community justice are
based on the premise that communities will be strengthened if local
citizens participate in responding sensibly to crime; and both envision
responses tailored to the preferences and needs of victims, communities
THE PRACTICE OF restorative justice, aspects of which
are already in place in areas around the country, holds that criminal
justice systems should actively engage the parties touched by crime
in repairing the injustices caused by crime. This means that individual
offenders should indeed be held accountable for having hurt real
people and real communities; and that they should be required to
help make their victims (or the families of victims) whole again.
Making restitution (or reparation) to crime victims is essential
to individual rehabilitation, healing and reconciliation, and to
restoring a community that had been sundered by a crime or crimes.
8. Increase efforts at rehabilitation within prisons.
WHILE INCARCERATION MAY demonstrate
individual failure, prison can be an environment in which change
in patterns of conduct can occur. For this reason, any system of
penal justice must provide those necessities that enable inmates
to live in dignity: food, clothing, shelter, personal safety, timely
medical care, education, and meaningful work adequate to the conditions
of human dignity.
REHABILITATION WILL NOT occur however, under the island's
present prison conditions. Currently, we have a rehabilitation-oriented
Commissioner and rehabilitation efforts have genuinely increased;
yet, at the same time, there is a bloodbath going on inside the
nation's maximum-security prisons. In this year alone there have
been 20 murders and 35 stabbings, an increase of approximately 400
percent for similar incidents reported last year. Beatings are the
prime method for behavior modification in our prisons.
WE BELIEVE THAT the root of the problem are high levels
of official corruption; politicization of labor disputes; deterioration
of the physical plant; severe lack of security for all parties;
and that rehabilitation, such as it is, occurs only on a preferential
WE URGE THAT, in order to establish
minimum conditions for the slightest possibility of rehabilitation,
the authorities should immediately: i. seek the skills of knowledgeable
teams of experts to solve the prisons' ongoing labor-relations problem,
including return of warders to the prison system ii. conduct a thoroughly
independent external audit of the prisons' operations (the last
internal audit was done three years ago; no one is sure the last
time an independent, outside audit was done) iii. move ahead with
plans for building new detention centers and to replace ancient,
dilapidated maximum-security buildings with new facilities-though,
importantly, we strongly urge against any movement toward massive
prison construction a la the United States, not when we should be
seriously developing alternative intermediate and community-based
means for dealing with crime and criminality. 9. Generate targeted
mass employment projects.
THE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN unemployment and crime needs
no elaboration here. However, we do want to call attention to findings
showing that it is the most blighted areas in the Kingston Metropolitan
Area and in places like Montego Bay that have the highest rates
of homicide. These areas are responsible for a disproportionate
share of the nation's violent crime problem. We see, therefore,
a need for Government and the private sector to immediately develop,
inside targeted ghetto areas: i. more programs for comprehensive
education, training and skills-building ii. means for mass employment,
primarily work projects that are not tied to any sort of political
patronage. 10. Invest in employment opportunities (including mass
projects) that will in the long term generate sustainable jobs.
WHILE A SIGNIFICANT percentage
of the nation's youths is in need of immediate employment to, among
other things, deter them from a life of crime, mere employment will
not be enough. They will need good, viable jobs if they are to become
stakeholders in the society. 11. Do more to enable small-scale entrepreneurship.
GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATE financial institutions should
do a lot more than they are currently doing to make it easier for
enterprising youths to access capital in order for them to start,
in this nation of entrepreneurs, their own mini ventures and enterprises.
IN ADDITION, IN order for many of the country's poor
to be able to successfully access credit, they will need legal assistance
in converting their informal assets into collateral. The lack of
legal proof of ownership has meant that people cannot use houses
(which many of them probably built on squatter land) as collateral
for loans, sell stakes in their businesses, buy insurance to minimize
risk or do other things that people in developed nations can do
to turn a little money into a lot of money. 12. Establish on the
Mona campus of the University of the West Indies a Peace Institute.
THE PEACE INSTITUTE, as we envision it, would serve first
and foremost to operationally define and put in practice essential
elements of the type of transformative approach to issues of crime
and social justice articulated in this document. The Institute would
be inter-faculty, cutting across academic and professional disciplines-
particularly social and applied sciences, medicine, social work,
law, humanities, theology and education.
ITS SPECIFIC MISSION would be
to: i. provide scholars, activists and other community leaders a
common place to engage in research (including development of relevant
methodologies), disseminate knowledge, and develop pedagogies around
issues of community and communal peace ii. ground and connect itself
with indigenous organizations around the country, in the region
and internationally that are working "on the ground" settling disputes
and developing programs of community-centered rehabilitation, peacemaking
and restorative justice iii. observe, monitor and report, through
mass information outlets, on national and regional achievement,
or movement towards, goals of transformative justice iv. facilitate
and/or offer its resources (physical space, staff, funding, communications
technology) to groups enjoined in combat, yet desiring peace v.
sponsor public workshops, forums, colloquia and seminars on and
dramatizations of topics relating to peace, justice, responsibility
and civil society vi. publish its own peacemaking journal, which
would attract submissions from the region and the wider world vii.
encourage and promote the work of its scholars.
THE ULTIMATE SIGNIFICANCE we see in the Peace Institute,
though, is that it will enable the University of the West Indies,
specifically the Mona campus, another way to connect institutionally
with the society-more directly so with its surrounding neighborhoods.
Signs are that, in the 21st Century, the university will be obligated
to fulfill new and more challenging roles. It is being challenged
to develop new collaborative, community-based integrated-service
systems and to define its role as a partner in community building.
Jamaican and Caribbean society will need a new generation of inter-professionally
oriented university leaders who have the ability to convince the
public and policy makers that knowledge and scholarship are as critical
to the moral and social development of a nation as they are to scientific
progress and economic growth. We must reinvent the university to
respond to the needs of a society in transition.