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Extortion is a means of survival - boys at a correctional centre

Published:Wednesday | March 11, 2015 | 5:33 PM

A SURVEY conducted by the Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) on 'Children, Crime and Corruption - A Case Study of Jamaica's Adolescents' has elicited some startling responses from boys at a juvenile correctional centre and an advisory group when questions were posed on a number of issues including crime and corruption.

On the question of corruption, with particular emphasis on extortion, a group of about eight boys from the Rio Cobre Correctional Centre viewed the illegal practice as an appropriate means of survival while the OCA Children's Advisory Panel members were able to identify it as not only an illegal activity but one which was morally wrong.

The Rio Cobre Correctional Centre houses boys between the ages of 12 and 17 who may have committed offences, while the Children's Advisory Panel comprises students from St Thomas, Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine, drawn from preparatory and primary schools, traditional and non-traditional high schools, and technical schools. These students interact with the Children's Advocate on a range of issues affecting children in the society.

'Haffi eat a food'

Asked if extortion was an activity they considered corrupt the boys at the correctional centre provided the following responses: "Extortion haffi gwaan man, cause mi haffi eat a food; It haffi happen fi a man survive; chiny bwoy haffi pay cause dem have it; since people like the young generation can't get nuh wuk and dem ting deh, so how we ago survive."

When asked the same question the OCA Children Advisory Panel said: "It is corrupt because you are soliciting money from people through force or by illegal means; yes it is and it is very prominent in high schools; yes, because it is using brute force to gain somebody else's assets; the fear factor is what makes it extortion and what also makes it a crime."

The boys at Rio Cobre were asked to describe their community and home life. The range of responses were "I never grow up in nuh home really cause a left them did lef me a roadside; my community full a shotta still, even my cousin was a man weh nuff people did fraid of; typical garrison, ghetto area weh gunshot fire regular and every man a look fi hustle cause dem can't get nuh work."

The Children Advisory Panel who also responded to the same question said: "My community is small and everybody knows everybody. So you may not necessarily talk to everybody as friends but we all know each other; I live in a so-called ghetto community and there tends to be a lot of excitement. Police patrol a lot and ever so often there are gunshots, but it doesn't bother me, I am used to it."

Different views on crime

Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison who spearheaded the study noted that across the groups, children viewed crime as a negative thing, yet the boys at Rio Cobre limited this to murder, while the advisory group was able to see and identify almost the entire gamut of criminal activity.

The study was exploratory and utilised focus group sessions as a means of data collection. A total of 10 questions were asked.

Highlighting some "mandatory takeaways" arising from the study, Gordon Harrison said ill-equipped parents who are not provided with the requisite support so that they can inculcate sound value systems within their children cannot produce well-adjusted off-spring.

Commenting on reform measures, the Children's Advocate said lax parenting and weak supervisory mechanisms within the home are at the root of the majority of instances in which children wind up in inappropriate or at-risk situations.

She observed that parenting skills, training and on-going support need to be emphasised as a national priority, with strategic focus being placed at the community level.