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Commentary: Hello Caribbean: Is it the criminal data or lack of policy?
Published on March 20, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Derrick Miller

Justice: The region often talks about crime, and that is always good, but ignores the root causes of crimes. Far too often, when one has a criminal record, he or she is treated as an outcast and their ability to be heard diminished. This is no different from the stigma placed on teenage pregnancy. The pride of the Caribbean is just as important as any policies, but it is a two-edged sword. Today, government has to find an effective way to manage the offender population rather than community isolation. It has to utilize the community, from the church, to the boys club and other outreach programs. Gone are the days when one is sent to countryside to live with a grandmother, or an older aunt because of shame. We are now more connected than decades ago. This is not an argument to relax on criminal behaviour.

Derrick Miller holds a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and finance, an MBA degree in global management and a Master of Science in criminal justice leadership. He is also a graduate from a top US federal law enforcement academy and has been a part criminal justice and public service field for over 14 years.
When national security leaders make crime a priority, however, despite good efforts, far too often when leaders find common ground in solving major issues, strategies seem to serve political sides rather than the law and justice in general. The same applies to an economic agenda. Although politics is everywhere, there comes a time when the elections are over. The concept of multidimensional approach that addresses emerging threats must cover all aspects: rehabilitation, vocational and career development, and ensure a fundamental social justice component. These are not mutually exclusive.

Today, I challenge any member of this region’s public safety departments to look at their offender population who are sitting in jail waiting to be tried, and see how long they have been incarcerated before due process. Sure, we must ensure that a person who has alleged committed a crime has due process. However, sometimes the pre-trial period far exceeds the actual length of sentence the court can impose and this can only lead to more frustration and distrust in the system.

The good news is that recent reports have shown a reduction in crime. However, simply scanning these Caribbean new headlines there is always a crime related story. Crime is not unique to the Caribbean alone, but these local issues cannot be compared to what is going on in industrial countries such as the US to satisfy frustration locally. Here is why: If an individual is killed next door for example in the US very rarely the neighbour has an idea what happened until one might ask, “Have you seen Bob or Malcolm?” Take that same person killed on the beach in the Caribbean; this could have a rippling effect on the tourism industry, and the community in general as these issues will be magnified tremendously.

When we look at a downward trend as it relates to crime, we cannot only highlight the actual numbers of deaths as the common denominator. When the numbers are reduced, it should be commended by the efforts implemented by law enforcement. However, can we say the success of a nation is being measured by the amount of deaths reported? Crime is beyond a gun war; it is domestic violence, financial, organized crimes, kidnapping of school students, poor schools, rape, incest, abuse, robberies, drugs being sold in front of schools, older men preying on young schoolchildren who are not at the right age to engage in relationships and easy access to alcohol and thefts. All these areas have to be reported

Managing crime must cut across all political sides. In these debates, crime rates are often viewed through the lenses of political sides. Where a downward slope can be found, all sides should praise it because all sides are linked together in moving the country forward. No one political party is immune from crime.

Risk Analysis: Some of these individuals have serious mental health issues that were not treated and later led to these problems. Family dynamics, such as broken homes, and victims’ crimes, poor education, and the lack of opportunities. They are depressed, and have been frustrated with their leaders, and any outlet to become belligerent will often take place.

A police officer is always the first responder to incidents. Therefore, an officer who has been afforded a high degree of discretion in the exercise of their authority, and in some events, since one’s attitude and preferences can often shape how he or she acts, it is important that one exercises self-control even when he/she can get away with negative behaviour

As the rhetoric continues about getting tough on crimes, do they actually know these criminals, and their whereabouts? For example: someone who has been deported and suddenly arrived in your town. This person has been gone since he was 15 months old, and the only thing he shares with the local people is a birth certificate issued in the same government building.

Upon arrival back to the island, no one knows why this person was deported. Not all drugs dealers are killers, and not all killers are drug dealers. Some of these individuals were simply caught for being at the wrong place and, through affiliations, or a past incident after which they have turned their life around, suddenly become part of the massive deportation policies being implemented from the US, Canada and England.

The lack of support and labeling when they arrive often forces them into illegal activities. In some crime fighting events, local officers have lost colleagues in shoot outs, and this is not that deportees are long time criminals, it is simply they have better weapons skills stemming from early exposure and the easy access to weapons back in the US and other areas from where they were deported. Now authorities are left wondering why an officer was killed. Sometimes it takes more than one big tent to get to know these people. I am not implying that measures have not been taken, but more needs to be done with the right training and proper resources in place.

How do you screen this person?

Reducing crimes does not always lie only with apprehension and incarceration of community criminals. Recruiting of right police candidates is equally important. A comprehensive analysis is paramount to ensure that, not because one enters service to society, he or she is the correct person for the job. It is essential that they have the right mind to serve and protect, and not just another way out of poverty, and to earn a paycheck and, in addition, using their power as a platform that engages in illegal activities. The potential here for corruption can be high. If one is being viewed as part of the problem, the community often sees all as a bad bunch.

Perception: Throughout the world, law enforcement officers die frequently in the line of work. However, the numbers can be high at times in the overall Caribbean region. There seems to be a level of disconnect as to the important role officers play in restoring order and other public safety issues. Install a permanent reminder to let future officers be aware that their service is vital to maintain democracy peace and freedom.

How do you reduce crime when law enforcement is seen as part of the problem rather than the solution? In the same communities where these officers serve, often people demonstrate and call for the release of accused individuals, even when the evidence points to guilt. Again, it is sometimes linked to the overall lack of hope and trust in the criminal justice system, as they often received more support from other criminals than the opportunities to find real work.

On the other hand, nothing is accomplished when individuals take to the streets with knives and machetes to resolve disputes and political disagreements. Today, it appears guns have replaced an individual coming down the hill with a piece of stick after a disagreement occurred. These individuals must take the time to research issues, seek a mediation process, arm themselves with information, and when one meets a senator, ask questions how their numbers are going to work, and what the backup plan is if all fails. I have never seen anyone being released after committing a crime because he/she had no idea of the laws.

Moving forward, how an offender transitions back the community, the support one receives, including victims, will be more critical. Furthermore, how that society provides intervention(s) will have a significant impact in the long-run as to more guns being bought, alarm systems installed to protect homes, purchases of groceries and other goods online delivered in armoured trucks.

These communities need to attract investments, and sometimes development is the only way it can generate employment, but we cannot develop more private beaches disguised as five-star hotels and homes only to shut out the local people who maintain roads, cut the grass and clean the bathrooms. This depends on what kind of future society wants to create. When leaders use the media in cases of child neglect, there has to be a balance as to the social and political data when these disparities occur.

Reintegration: Society cannot sustain growth when one segment is being shut out: my philosophy on crime will remain tough and that if one commits a crime, the only solution is that he/she equally does the time. Building any society will need a holistic approach. It is more than likely that, given the geographic location of these towns, and the lack of resources, an offender will be back in the same area as the victim, and how do you reconcile that without retaliation?

Just as much as victim support is critical, the offender needs the same level of support.

Incarcerated individuals often struggle in the re-entry process. We have to reduce some of the inhumane ways these offenders are being treated both inside and outside of the prison walls.

A paradigm shift cannot be the new buildings we develop, and ignore other problems as to some of the root causes, and how to address these issues. Often an individual goes to jail for stealing a goat, few coconuts, or a fight, and someone gets hurts. Although we must not minimize the impact on their victims, however, one returns to the community after a period of incarceration as a cold blooded killer stemming from indoctrination housed with hard-core criminals.

Suddenly, this offender arrives back from prison without any level of supervision and or resources, parents are gone and could not buried in the town they were born. The small districts often remain empty, abandoned, and some are riddled with the ghosts of the past, now occupied by substance abusers stemming from the economic investments that have diminished. The only shop on the street is a small liquor bar, manufacturing has left because of privatization a once treasured area has now been taken over by greed, and access to alcohol for the ones we condemn only play to a high recidivism rate. This I believe has contributed to more gang activities, crime infected areas that often have created more victims.

Several counties have begun to modernize their prison system and have instituted policies to move the offender forward once they return to society. St Lucia and Barbados have good modernized prisons. I am sure there are others. However, it is ironic that these two countries have some of the lowest crime rates when compared to others, and have attracted solid investments.

There is no fundamental correlation to this trend. For example, building better prisons will not reduce crime. In a recent study, as Fared Zakaria noted: Building of prisons dollars far exceeded amount spent on education. He talked about not only the higher rate of incarceration in the US compared to other counties such as Japan, Germany and Mexico; the amount of money US states spend on prisons has increased at a faster rate than on education. This did not have any positive impact on the over two million individuals now sitting in jail in the US.

Moving Forward: We must ensure that some families who lost loved ones to violence and scared to make the trip to pay their final respect because they too are in fear of being re-victimized must be addressed. It is very sad when victims are turning to voodoo worshiping, and other material idols to solve crimes, and for medical issues because they too have lost hope. Our leaders have to educate and minimize the risks through education and against exploitation of the elders and allow the law to solve crimes rather than some abstract ideology.

The hope is that when one takes a short walk to the next Parliament building, or drives over a bridge, think about what policy will be supported or be introduced for the homeless, victims of crimes, and countless others in the shadows. It he or she finds employment, it can have a positive impact on any proposed and anticipated crime and GDP numbers.

If the system does not change course, prisons will be bigger than supermalls in the next decade. The migration of people looking for better job opportunities will be fewer because their own system of government has failed while unemployment remains high across several nations, and especially among the youth.

The final hope is that, as this region strives for better communities, it must give back where it can, and promote peace over conflicts. When one has a good idea, it should be analyzed and be promoted if it can make a difference.

As the area transitions this year, nothing will immediately stop the rate of crimes being committed each day on the streets. Domestic violence, rape /sexual assaults, substance abuse, kids going to run down schools or teens being forced into early relationships with older men just to survive, or being forced into child labour will not change. One in four women will be a victim of some type of rape or sexual assault. Furthermore, corruption, human rights issues, victimization, and other community conflicts are just a few roadblocks this year that the region has to deal with. Some communities will still fear the police while engaging in illegal activities. Others still will be prosecuted because they are different

Why should you care when the only problem some of us have encountered today was the snow outside that kept them from riding a bicycle or the crab grass in the lush lawns. It is simple; create a solid economic, peaceful, happy, and healthy environment and when you are in the region whether as a return resident or visiting, or reconnecting with one’s heritage, the stay will be smoother. However, the region must develop a universal blueprint to move everyone who wants to move forward.
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