Reducing violent crime in Jamaica: a proposal for a ten year strategic plan by Donovan Reynolds independent writer.

Ja GangsThis article contributes to the current concerns of the escalating crime rate in Jamaica; it is of particular interest to me, having spent 35 years in the Criminal Justice system both in Jamaica and also the United Kingdom. The author of this article feels compelled to offer his insight by sketching ideas of a different methodology of crime fighting that emphasises a shift away from a reactionary justice policy towards an integrated public health approach, research led and driven through a multi-agency method. The discussion draws attention for the need to explore the importance of past research showing a positive correlation between the high prevalence of personality disorders in the general population and its possible nexus to crime. A suggestion is made for a ten year crime reduction plan with an overarching safeguarding policy and the creation of Community safety teams across the fourteen Jamaican Parishes with cross agency information sharing protocol and the strengthening of mental health services. 

The heightened incidence of criminal and violent behaviour in Jamaica in recent years have become a major concern for visitors, investors and returning residents.  Since the beginning of 2017 more than 632 murders have been committed in a small island with a population of less the 3 million people.  From  deep West End Negril to the most Eastern tip of Morant Point, violence and crime threaten social stability and are becoming major obstacles to the islands development. One of the negative double edge consequences of a high murder rate is that it affects the social cohesion of a nation state internally and externally it batters its global reputation and prevents foreign direct investments – a necessary pre cursor for economic growth. In economic terms, for every person who dies unexpectedly the country suffers a loss economically in GDP terms. On the social side of the equation, families are shattered psychologically and children and dependent relatives left behind are robbed of a good future.

Historically, the attempt to deal with the escalating crime rate has always straddled a similar but futile path; heavy handed police response which has been reactive by nature. The history is that many operational police squads have been formed and as a consequence a high rate of alleged extrajudicial killings. A number of police commissioners have been fired or resigned from the job because of the scale problem and pressure to produce results with residual resources. One of the problems with reducing crime in small developing countries such as Jamaica is the false assumption that you can use crime strategies or comparative data extrapolated from developing countries. This approach is default strategy of crime reduction.  The motive for crimes often take on different cultural patterns, subsequently scientific enquiries are necessary in order to examine correlations, causations and modus before a reduction strategy can be deployed.

It is our belief at Kingston-Mouth that the methodology of an efficient crime fighting strategies should be informed by the collection of accurate scientific data. I am arguing strongly that over the past 40 years a huge body of data on crime has been generated in Jamaica and its needs to be analysed. More research work needs to be done also to understand the official and unofficial social, political and economic structures that sustain these high levels of crime in Jamaica, We know for example from anecdotal evidence the proceeds that are earned the lotto scamming and drug dealing are in part responsible for a number of murders in the parish of St James. More effort should be placed on choking of the money that finances the purchasing of guns used by criminal gangs and nefarious individuals. We know overall from the statistics that a majority of the murders are classified as stemming from domestic situations, yet we don’t know how to identify early indicators of risk and early family intervention that could curtail the occurrence of these murders. We at believe that the risk factors for why these young men get involved in crime also needs to be clearly diagnosed and complemented with a treatment plan that involves the family, community and a range of integrated services.

Corruption, poverty and social exclusion are all valid causation of crime in underdeveloped countries starved of resources and saddled with huge internal and external debts. We envisage no magic chariot of money arriving on the Island so there needs to be effective use of the existing resources wisely. Constant criminal behaviour implies a level of dysfunctional entrenched cultural values. In order to prevent young people from glorifying violence you have to first discourage the use of the language of violence and aggression the daily communication in the country. The use of hateful and hurtful language has become a way of life in Jamaica creating episodes that often lead to aggravated assaults, shootings and murders.

While there is a huge push towards mediation and restorative early childhood education is the first port of call for a shift to a more compassionate and caring society. We know that a better understanding of the drivers of violence is essential, and that starting interventions early at the pre-primary stage level. Jamaica has lived under austerity for the past forty years; there is an entire generation of young people and adults who have faced social exclusion for most of their lives. Correspondingly the gap between the rich and the poor has widened exponentially.  Some of those who have wealth flaunt it in the face of the poor and the just about managing, creating anger resentment and reprisal. Wealth is flaunted through Jamaican popular culture and norms as the only way of having a fulfilling and happy life. Dancehall lyrics often cultivate a misleading get-rich-quick narrative accompanied by violence and misogyny. It would be foolhardy to make a connection between dance hall music and crime but it gives an ugly snapshot of a worrying trend that warrants further examination. The culture of corruption within the county mitigates in favour of a new rich criminal underclass that is attractive to young people with the offering of guns for hire, high end motorcars and fancy gadgets. This new criminal class should be targeted and isolated as they are responsible for contributing towards a murder culture. In the same vein, those who promote and amplify class differences across an uptown downtown should be encouraged to pay their fair share of taxes and embrace a more just and even society and a reduction of the high level of crime. Jamaica needs to address economic inequality which forces young people into the laps of those who control the underground economy. Much work is needed by law enforcement agencies in terms of uprooting corruption in the public services and the criminal justice system. I believe that a cultural change to emphasise good values are central to reducing crime and violence in the long run. The entire public services suffer from a lack of investment, integrity, oversight mechanisms and creative capacity building.

Missing from the discussion about crime and violence is the mental health crisis. The mental health service in Jamaica is residual and often seen by politicians and policy makers as disconnected to crime. In developing countries, criminal Justice is often seen as a public health issue. Usually, there are strong linkages between the criminal justice system and those countries mental health services. The co relationship between the high prevalence of personality disorders and the high incidents of violent crimes warrant much needed research. Over a protracted period of time crude figures about the level of personality disorders have been flagged up by the countries noted psychiatrists but have been totally ignored. As far back as 2013, Dr F Hicklin’s study showed that two-fifths of the population (41.4%) scored above the scale’s cut-point, indicating a diagnosis of personality disorder with the level of severity ranging from mild to severe. Persons with personality disorder are significantly more likely to be single (63%), male (60%), between the ages 18 and 44 years (77%) and of a lower socio-economic status (65%) The report suggests a high risk of behavioural dysfunction in the Jamaican population, having significant implications in light of the country’s high rate of crime and violence. I have always agued the most of the crime fighting budget in Jamaica should be directed at strengthening the health services. As far back in 2008 comparatives studies by Richard C. Howard, PhD et al, concluded that those having APD/BPD were more likely than the remainder to have received a conviction for violence and a custodial sentence. They showed higher trait anger and impulsivity and a greater history of aggression, and scored significantly higher on a higher order psychopathy factor. In contrast, obsessive compulsive disorders traits were inversely related to criminal history variables. The Jamaican government continue to overlook the nexus of mental illness to crime hypothesis at its peril. I have argued elsewhere that a major investment in mental health services in Jamaica is long overdue.

Finally, the entrenched levels of crime in Jamaica cannot be fixed overnight. I know that this assessment is discomforting but very sobering; I propose that a ten year crime plan through a multiagency approach is adopted. A public heath agenda should drive the strategy. The strategy should dovetail the following agencies: the Security Forces , Parish Community safety units, Victim support, Neighbourhood Watch, the Statistical Institute of Jamaica ,The Court services The Probation Service ,the Mental Health Services, the Education services, the Social Services, The Local Parish Councils, the private sector , NGOs and Youth Organisations. I am suggesting also the creation of a new criminal intelligence research department staff by social researchers, statisticians and criminologists. The crime plan should be scientifically driven with an oversight body to monitor outcomes and quality control. The heavy handed Police strategies have not worked; it is time to think differently. The programme should be underpinned by three policies: an adult Safeguarding Policy, a Children’s Safeguarding policy and a Youth at Risk strategy rolled out across the Parish community safety units. All involved in a cross agency information sharing protocol that is fed into a confidential police intelligence apparatus.

This is an initial summary of what I believe needs to be done and I am open to have more in-depth discussion on the matter. Jamaica needs all the help it can get; it strikes me profoundly that every unpunished violent crime committed takes away something from the security of every man’s life everywhere in the world. Tackling crime is a scientific pursuit requiring diagnosis by scientific examination (research). The next step should be a prognostic strategy designed from the results of data and the strategy and structures to support and evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention.

This article was written by Donovan Reynolds CEO and edited by Ann Smith Managing editor of Donovan Reynolds is an Independent blogger and Human Right’s Activist of Jamaican descent and a legal Academic who has an interest in Human Rights, Culture and International Development issues. Readers of this article are welcome to provide feedback at the space provided at the end of this article at useful commentary made on our Facebook and Kingsonmouth@twitter pages.



Donovan Reynolds is an Independent Blogger and Human Rights Activists who is of a Jamaican descent and a legal academic that has an interest in Human Rights, Culture and International Development Issues.
Donovan Reynolds CEO and edited by Ann Smith Managing Editor of Kingston-Mouth .com.
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Donovan Reynolds is an Independent Blogger and Human Rights Activists who is of a Jamaican descent and a legal academic that has an interest in Human Rights, Culture and International Development Issues. Donovan Reynolds CEO and edited by Ann Smith Managing Editor of Kingston-Mouth .com.

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