Not unexpectedly, the main questions during the government’s press briefing this week centred on crime. The day’s flack-catcher at the GIS Studios was Social Justice, Empowerment and Human Services Minister Lenard Montoute. He revealed he’d been in consultation with Home Affairs and National Security Minister Hermangild Francis (see story on page 8) in a bid to discuss programmes and projects related to the crime situation. While Montoute did not want to “jump the bandwagon” and state there was an increase in crime, he admitted a significant rise in the number of homicides recorded, which he described as “disconcerting”.
“The majority of the victims are young, as are the perpetrators,” the minister stated. “As far as I’m concerned, you have two sets of victims: the perpetrators, as well as the people who suffer the consequences.”
There is no one definitive statement that could be made about the crime problem, the minister noted. While his government had to assume a level of responsibility in addressing the situation, Montoute observed that the government’s efforts, without the full co-operation of law-abiding citizens, were doomed. Crime is “a societal problem, with a societal responsibility,” he emphasized. “All institutions must fulfill their responsibilities. And that includes schools, churches, NGOs and the family.”
As the questions persisted from the media, Montoute provided insight into the programmes his ministry was hoping to introduce to help fight crime, among them after-school programmes meant to target students often left unsupervised due to their guardians’ work schedules. The minister was confident the introduction of community-based programmes meant young people would be positively engaged, and that the programmes would “positively impact individuals and society”. Sports, ICT, music and the creative arts were some of the areas to be incorporated within the programmes in an effort to develop “wholesome and productive citizens”.
There would also be a push for conflict resolution programmes, with a focus on inter-personal relationships.
Touching on the Juvenile Justice Reform Program, which was now in the second phase, Montoute spoke of plans that involved intervention with young people at the community level. “It’s cliché that idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” he noted, “but I believe if people are gainfully engaged, it is less likely they will resort to deviant behaviour and criminal activity.”
Inner city communities, and other areas on the outskirts were among target groups. Other than criminality, there would also be a focus on vulnerability.
“There is no one programme that will bring about the solution we seek,” said Montoute. “I think it’s about chipping at it bit by bit, and ensuring all hands are on deck, all approaches are covered.”
Also coming up for discussion was the Boys’ Training Centre which houses two categories of juvenile males: boys who have run afoul of the law and boys in need of care and protection. The minister stated the obvious: there is need to be sensitive to the separate categories of youth at the facility, as both groups could not be cared for in the same manner. While the minister said it was not the intent of those in authority to segregate, there was need to ensure there were separate quarters for both groups, appropriate conditions and facilities for staff (including counsellors), keeping in mind the vulnerability of both groups. Infrastructural changes were among the upgrades mentioned by the minister, “with a view to alleviating the existing counter-productive environment”.
The topic of the BTC was not without memories of a young ward who burned to death years ago, trapped in a cell at the facility. Years after the remembered incident, there still has not been a published report. Montoute spoke of plans to make the Centre a “more comfortable and suitable place for the boys”.
Despite a questionable past, there seemed to be hope on the horizon for the BTC and other facilities for youth at risk.
When the question of capital punishment arose, the minister shared his personal perspective: “I do not believe it is a deterrent. But the law demands it in certain circumstances and the law is the law until amended.”
The minister believed that empowering people with knowledge and understanding was a far better solution than capital punishment to dealing with defiant behaviour and crime.
The conference ended on a more positive note: government statistics suggested a slight reduction in unemployment. Whether or not that included short-term opportunities like STEP, deemed “dead-end jobs” by the minister, remained unclear. But the minister firmly believed temporary jobs “should not be the beginning and end in what we do to provide as opportunities for our young people”.
He said the government’s plan was to focus more on the development of entrepreneurial thinking, at a time when the public servant wage bill was at capacity. More successful entrepreneurs would equate to more jobs, and the minister vowed, particularly in the month of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), that the government would do all in its power to provide requisite support and encouragement for efforts that would positively impact the economy and, by extension, help combat the killer issue of crime.