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Briefing | Crime and violence in Jamaica; time to focus on embedded institutional problems

Published:Tuesday | January 23, 2018 | 12:00 AMDr Andre Haughton
In this 2005 file photo women are seen comforting a Clarendon resident mourinng the murder of a relative.

Crime and violence has had minimal impact on tourism in the Second City, although the violent habits of some of the residents of Montego Bay are becoming overwhelming. The crime as well as a state of emergency can sometimes be very costly to everyone and can also result in loss of earnings. There are several direct and indirect costs associated with crime. Direct costs include that of policing and security, legal fees, medical expenditure, prisons and private security, while indirect costs include loss of earnings, loss of productive time, lower investment, lower demand, and lower productivity. The people appear to be desperately in need of a less violent city, and despite the associated costs and the negative perception, many continue to engage in criminal and violent activities. Why do they?


Use your imagination


I can recall once in primary school, the teacher asked each of us to write a story entitled My Life as a 10 Cent Coin. Using our imaginations, we had to live the life of a 10 cent coin. I would start from the moment I got pressed in the mint; how proud I felt, looking shinny and new. Packaged with the others and delivered to the bank ready for circulation. The bank clerk placed us nicely in the till, while we waited excitedly to conduct our first transactions. We heard folk tales of the 10 cent coins of previous generations, how valuable they were. They exchanged between bourgeois hands in expensive transactions, like buying mink and fur. We wished we were as valuable as 50 cent coin, not mention $1, $10, $100 and $1000. I wished to become as valuable as they are, but I was made a lone 10 cent coin. Can you imagine being born as a 10 cent trying to become a dollar?


Different feet, different shoes


It appears that everyone wants to improve in value in some way. A wealthy businessman might engage in crime if he sees it profitable to do so. Imagine a poor boy without positive guidance. Imagine working six days a week tirelessly and your expenses are more than what you earn and you cannot get a mortgage for a house because your income does not qualify you. Imagine a poor semi-educated young adult who fantasises about living the "American dream" of owning fancy cars, mansions and yachts with exotic women similar to the athletes, musicians, actors or owners of large companies, only to realise that he can never achieve that from working his job. Imagine worse, you create a perception in your head that people with lighter skin shade are given preference over you when it comes to certain opportunities. So you decide to bleach your skin to increase your own prospects of receiving opportunities, but you end up making things worse. Image you have a few tattoos and piercings and you are considered unemployable, how do you earn an income in the absence of social benefits and encouraging infrastructure?


Everything has a function


The economy is an interconnected and multifaceted space where different agents play different roles to ensure the proper functioning of the system. For example, the doctors, nurses and hospital's are designed to deal with situations regarding healthcare. Schools, universities and teachers are responsible for education, while the police, lawyers, judges, the court and the judicial system are responsible for correcting crime and violence and so on. If the system is supposed to function effectively, these economic agents must be adequately compensated so that they can focus on the tasks at hand. If not, rationally, they will focus their time on something else that might help to increase their incomes, which might or might not be related to their functions. Crime is voluntary; therefore, someone can choose whether or not they engage in criminal activity. It is time to focus on the embedded institutional problems.