The Next 50 Years - Let's end this 50-year relationship with crime
Bernard Headley, Contributor
data can be at times fuzzy, since back in 1962, we weren't nearly as
mindful as we are today about matters dealing with crime. Nonetheless,
those of us who crunch the available numbers and do the analyses are at
one in concluding: violence became endemic and incidents of both common
and organised crime skyrocketed in Jamaica in the years following
They have remained extraordinarily high since then.
who were around as high-school youngsters in the immediate
pre-Independence years can recall that, back then, a murder, whether in
the village, heard about on RJR or read of in The Gleaner, was a tale filled with dread and horror.
sometimes gruesome killings were typically of the
variety, and indeed, we still have these!
But it was not until the
late 1960s, five or six years into Independence, when we first heard of
strings of killings that were random, politically fuelled, gang-led, or
from gang feuds, donmanship or shoot-outs.
We'd always thought
that the latter happened only on forbidden movie screens in John Wayne
westerns and in the 'adventures' of the 1940s' folkloric Rhygin, our
first bad man.
Most disquieting as we look back, though, is the manner in which crime's violent ethos - its seductions and signification - has
our early, astute crime analysts, Dudley Allen, noted in the 1980s that
the country's violent crime rates doubled (and then some) during the
first 12 years following Independence.
From 1962 to
1974, manslaughter rates increased by 167 per cent, robbery by 771 per
cent, rape by 160 per cent, felonious wounding by 137 per cent, and
shooting with intent by 1,350 per cent.
For the more
recent years, the Planning Institute of Jamaica has each year
consistently reported high numbers for all serious
But let's stay with homicides, the most
reliable index of serious crime.
Homicide rates for
the nation climbed from a low of eight or nine murders per 100,000
inhabitants in each of the years leading up to Independence to an
astounding 40 and 45 murders per 100,000 in the
And from 2005 to the end of 2007, the rate
skyrocketed to 60 murders per 100,000, or more than 1,500 persons
murdered annually, and those figures do not include victims of police
The number of murders jumped to 1,682, or 63
murders per 100,000 in 2009.
We may have
experienced, in the last year or so, unexceptional declines from that
2009 high, but reflect for a moment on these
DRASTIC CRIME INCREASE
raw facts are that we moved from a low of fewer than 80 homicides per
year at the time of Independence to a high of more than 1,600 in the
years since independent self-governance.
100,000 Jamaicans alive in 1961-62, at most nine of them stood the
chance of being killed by a gunman, robber or 'loved one'; 60 and more
of them would at the end of the last decade.
another way, the chance of exiting life in a manner dictated by another
human being (other than the State) has increased more than sevenfold
Over the last 10 years, Jamaicans
living on the 'rock' stood a far greater likelihood of being stabbed,
beaten or shot to death than did the people in neighbouring, battered
But what would
have been responsible 50 or 60 years ago for the murder rate being as
low as it was then?
And what would have changed so
dramatically to cause the figure to have climbed to the horrendous
numbers they are today?
The overriding explanation
lies, paradoxically, in the social contradictions, the cross-cutting
processes inherent to our transition to Independence, economic
self-reliance and modernisation.
Thanks to agencies
like the United Nations, the World Bank and the Organisation for
Economic Corporation and Development, we are not in short supply of
scholarly research that have documented sets of universal, unintended
but seemingly ineluctable, negative side effects that have accompanied
independence and national modernisation projects.
current overview commissioned by Canada's International Development
Research Centre (IDRC), for instance, points to the links between
outcomes of modernisation and growth in crime and violence; the outcomes
of concern being rapid urbanisation and persistent poverty, coupled
with rising inequality.
Let's examine, briefly, how
these particular forces coalesced in Jamaica's post-Independence story
to bring upon us our terrible crime trouble.
industrialisation and drift to hollow cities
the Jamaican population numbered just barely over one million
We lived then, not always happily, in mostly
Close to 80 per cent of us lived in
districts and towns that numbered 5,000 people or
Several communities across the length and
breadth of the island, but particularly in the parishes of Westmoreland,
St James, St Elizabeth, Clarendon and (rural) St Catherine, were
reasonably well sustained by the growth and harvesting of sugar cane;
and by manufacture of sugar and related products in sugar
A major programme of upgrading the sugar
industry in the 1950s, coupled with guaranteed markets (at guaranteed
'good' prices), saw the worth of sugar increase by 170 per cent between
1943 and 1953.
Profitability in the industry, and its
ability to not only generate jobs but also to sustain whole communities,
continued up until 1965.
Sugar was, therefore,
integral to our storied early-1960s economic growth, as financial
analyst Dennis Chung wrote in a July 27 column in The
A measure of self-sufficiency had
characterised the towns and districts that came under the sway of
Moreover, small-scale farming, which frequently
supplemented income from sugar, added resilience to tight-knit rural
Village elders bonded and shared wisdom and
expertise with youngsters.
Informal agencies and
abundance of social capital worked well to socialise and
And the agencies - extended family, the
Church, the neighbour, the district constable - were equally effective
at unobtrusively maintaining order and discipline, and at restraining
But sugar's downward spiral, which
began in the mid to late 1960s, brought erosion in the natural
'mechanical solidarity' it had engendered in village
As people migrated out of communities in search
of new livelihoods, the influence of village life on behaviour weakened;
and whole communities fell apart.
livelihoods, jobs in industry, that the new nation's leadership classes
had promised the displaced were, however, in short
By the end of the 1960s, hordes of the
uprooted had nonetheless made their
way, children in tow, into and on the
outskirts of the island's three or four main urban centres. They'd come
in search of new kinds of work.
The result ... you
guessed it! As Kingston, lower St Andrew, Spanish Town, May Pen and
Montego Bay expanded in population size and geographic scale, so also
did the spread of urban poverty and
"It was the concern with the
extent of urban poverty and the vast differences between neighbourhoods
in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that triggered the expansion
of social enquiry into urban life, including in cities such as
"Early sociologists found
that the relationships between inequality, exclusion and criminal and
interpersonal violence were more intense in settings characterised by
unequal distribution of
"Not only was criminal
violence more pronounced in cities, but intra-urban disparities in
violence were correlated with neighbourhood income levels: higher income
areas suffered from property-related violent crime and more severe
forms of violence (chronic or otherwise) concentrated in lower income
"Many of these same
observations are recorded in studies of inequality and criminal violence
in the 21st century" (IDRC, 2012).
Inequality in urban contexts is a form of structural
violence, which then triggers the more reactionary forms of
The kind of inequality and deprivation
referred to here, though, "are not limited exclusively to
income, but also (to) lack of access to basic social services, lack of
state protection, exposure to systematic corruption, and inefficiencies
that most acutely affect the poor".
situations of widespread and severe inequality, the urban poor are
undervalued and marginalised, their daily living conditions heightened
by the potential for conflict, and they become, above all other
disastrous consequences, 'available' for pain, waste and destruction-to,
among others, disreputable 'big' men and nefarious
Homicide rates inside branded 'volatile'
communities of Kingston-lower St Andrew and Spanish Town are not 50 and
60 murders per year, per 100,000 inhabitants, by the way; rather, they
are consistently in the region of 300 to 400 murders per year, per
100,000 people, as the works of colleague Professor Anthony Harriott
Children who had travelled in tow with
parents in the 1960s would, in the years following Independence, morph
into and reproduce two generations of hardened 'Johnny Too Bads'.
'Walkin' down the road' with a weapon in their waists, they could just
as easily slit throats and make duppies of each other as they could
'make' babies - with the same lack of regard, or equal
Fifty years forward with what
Having come starkly face to face with this other
Olympian side of our nation, what might be the way forward over its
next 50 years to, if we can't reverse 'what gone bad a mawnin', at least
not let it get worse?
Again, we are not lacking in
the research findings department in identifying sets of 'what has
worked' interventions, both in the international literature and from our
All successful interventions have
had as their objective increasing the advocacy of the urban
disadvantaged, and reducing the inequalities and other harsh effects of
Pacification with community
policing: Weeding out the 'bad guys' (i.e., the controlling dons and
their henchmen) means reasserting state authority, combined with efforts
to reinstall services and build trust in neglected
Such was the security force's stated, good
intention in West Kingston in the events of May 2010. We continue to
watch and monitor.
Enhancing protection and reducing
risks facing youths
A wide spectrum of interventions
to simultaneously promote 'protective factors' and reduce 'risk factors'
facing would-be victims, perpetrators and ex-offenders ought to be
encouraged and sustained, and new ones imagined.
we do with turned-out and turned-off youngsters, as well with the
deported and first-time offenders, has a determinative effect on levels
The British High Commission in Jamaica,
through its Jamaica Rehabilitation and Reintegration Programme, has been
giving admirable support to a range of protective-type
Several UWI and Northern Caribbean
University colleagues are also leading key community violence prevention
initiatives - Claudette Crawford-Brown, Grace Kelly, Horace Levy,
Elizabeth Ward, and Herbert Gayle come readily to
But by financing instruments known as 'pay for
success', or social impact bonds, private-sector actors (including in
the diaspora) can also engage in actual investment mechanisms that are
focused on youth-risk and violence
Promoting social capital and urban
The kind of social capital and cohesion that
existed in the village can never be replicated in quite the same way in
Both, however, are "critical factors
in binding community (and) the constellation of local social forces
linking people together" (IDRC, 2012).
forms of cohesion, such as youth clubs, neighbourhood watches and
varying NGO networks that facilitate coordination and cooperation for
mutual benefit, have had the effect of promoting, within urban settings,
security and resilience.
The 'tightening of social
bonds can empower community actors to make more informed demands on
public authorities' and to devise their own collaborative means for
Urban renewal and slum
The approach, though, need not be intensive
We can build on innovations taken
in the 1980s and 1990s by governments in South Asia "to regularise
ownership and to identify innovative ways of working with private actors
to harness the unrealised potential of informal (non-gully)
More recently, urban renewal
interventions have started from the premise that informal settlements
offer critical resources that can be built on, fostered and
"Some have developed market-based
approaches to expanding the value of squatter
Think expanding recycling into
a credible industry in and around Riverton City, for
Urban governance for
Alongside the push for urban renewal and
support for slum upgrading is a growing chorus to "transform modes of
urban governance in order to stimulate social cohesion and economic
The concept of 'citizen security', for
example, as currently articulated by both the ministries of National
Security and Justice, is a way of framing a more holistic approach to
promoting safety and enabling wider social and economic
Inducements to move out of the
("I've got to go back home",
One crime reduction proposal I have on the
table envisions engaging in a nation-building project a pilot group of
jobless deported migrants ('deportees') all with past convictions for
offences committed while overseas.
The project would
'redeploy' out of greater Kingston willing participants, and engage them
in social entrepreneurial agriculture - in a community in rural
The rudiments of this powerful social
innovation idea were first fashioned by the deported migrants' assist
organisations 'Families United for Reunification' and 'Second
Projects like these, when sustained, go a
long way towards promoting values of inclusion: they give an excluded,
at-risk group a sought-after opportunity to participate meaningfully in
Back in October 2000, the esteemed, beloved late
Professor Barry Chevannes spearheaded an initiative by the UWI
The idea was "to assemble the various
scholars from across the faculties to propose long-term strategies that
could effectively lead to reduction in harms and overall aggression in
I was given charge of writing the
group's final document. Crime, Peace and Justice in Jamaica: A
Transformative Approach, we decided to call the document
(available on the Jamaicans for Justice website).
final recommendation called for establishment of a Peace (&
Development) Institute, to search for, as a 2012 Inter-Development Bank
report put it, 'antipodes' to violence.
balanced development and nation-building strategy ought to include
understanding, teaching and practising the ways of peace - respect and
tolerance, healing and restoration, love and
These are, in the final analysis, the
ultimate 'protective factors' against crime and
Indeed, the United Nations Development
Programme and other partners have devoted considerable resources to
supporting "national peace architectures" to precisely this
We haven't received much traction for the Peace
Institute idea in the almost 12 years (and more than 12,000 additional
murders) since we proposed it - though hope lives eternal ...
Bernard Headley is a retired professor of
criminology and professor emeritus (sociology) at the North-eastern
Illinois University, Chicago, USA. Send feedback to