If we cannot stop youth violence, can we not at least implement measures to stop it before it starts? The numbers of cases of youth violence in the last several weeks are unthinkable, yet it is the cold, hard reality. Students have the right to an education and to walk our streets in safety, but it appears that juvenile outlaws have decided to strip them of that right. From the brutal attack of a SJC student to the near fatal attack onfemale student of the George Charles Secondary School, to the assault on a student of the Entrepot Secondary School and the stabbing in the neck of a youthful icicle vendor by a female teenaged drop-out; it is plain to see that there is a grave trend of youth-on-youth violence which is very concerning and a serious trend that cannot be allowed in this small society.
All of the young victims were known to have been attacked by young assailants. All the students involved have had to receive medical attention, meaning that if not for divine mercies, they could have lost their lives quite needlessly and innocently.
It is a short-sighted shame that in this atmosphere, authorities have put their scalpel to the Court Diversion Programme in the name of budgetary cuts and fiscal adjustments.
Despite annual police statistics that unwaveringly indicate a hike in youth crime, government remains critically short on the will and creativity to sustain such an important safety net to deal effectively with juvenile issues. The programme‘s objective was to assist in rehabilitating Juvenile Offenders and Youth at Risk. The programme came on stream in 2011, catering to rehabilitating school drop-outs and youth who have been in conflict with the law and at risk of prosecution.
These vulnerable juveniles in most cases were found to have underlying mental health issues, substance abuse issues and were without a legitimate form of livelihood nor the luxury of reliable caregivers to support them. The programme provided three meals a day, a place to be productively occupied, educational and remedial programmes and was a source of much-needed guidance and counselling to youth who are teetering on the edge, troubled, disillusioned, confused and disconnected from the rest of the society.
As stupefying as it is in this climate of high youth crime, the Court Diversion Programme was booted off the government’s priority list. What does this say and what message does this send to the youth and the rest of society?
When the Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security launched this programme it was clear that the intervention was a critical stitch in time for the fabric of society. It was relevant and urgent. These vulnerable youths had access to professionals at the Probation and Parole Department who could identify the behavioral or other risk factors that could potentially coalesce into horrific outcomes if these individuals were to be left to their own devices or fall through the cracks. Why would the government in its collective “wisdom” allow this programme to be given the cut?
The move speaks of a condescending and trivializing attitude to youth in difficulty and crime prevention.
Jurisdictions in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia have longstanding court diversion programmes to help address juvenile issues. To cut such a programme is to automatically compromise the safety and security of all citizens of the society. A government of the nation has no business implementing or removing policies that, as a result, will impact negatively on the public good. The government should be careful that in its desperation to balance the fiscal deficit, it does not circumvent prudence, wisdom and even commonsense, thereby placing the country in a more off-kilter position than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
There are certain social safety net programmes which must be protected from budgetary cuts; otherwise as the adage goes, government will be selling the house to buy a nail. Throwing the law book at hardened offenders has failed to change them; meanwhile the courts and prisons come under mounting pressure.
It doesn’t take the sharpest mind to decipher why the prison’s population is so high. An individual who becomes a criminal in his formative years is the hardest to rehabilitate and convert. Frankly speaking, St. Lucia is light years away from having the resources to fund the rehabilitation of hardened criminals. Early exposure to remedial programmes is the only chance that society truly has to deal with delinquent juveniles.
When this programme was launched, the former Minister of Home Affairs and National Security Mr. GuyMayers said the programme would function collaboratively with the courts, school system, the community policing programme, parents and guardians to implement this social intervention as part of the national crime-fighting strategy.
It looks like the former Minister for Home Affairs and National Security who has in the past differed with the current minister, on handling certain aspects of his portfolio, showed some genuine faith in the programme which began under his watch—faith that this current administration do not possess.
Instead of paying lip-service to youth policy and youth development, the SLP administration should seek to uphold social safety nets that will help decrease youth crime. Already the effects of high unemployment have compounded youth vulnerability issues, so logically this lifeline offered to youth who are at risk of going to jail should not be taken away.
Without this intervention, it is inevitable that more troubled youngsters will get involved in youth-on-youth violence, among more egregious, even deadly, criminal acts. Is it that the govern-ment prefers to house them as wards of the state at the overcrowded Bordelais Correctional Facility at a cost of three million dollars annually? Monies “saved” at the expense of vulnerable youth social programmes are monies that will be spent incarcerating them in our prions. Does that make sense?