Statistics provided by the Bordelais Correctional Facility as of October 12, 2017 indicate that 25% of inmates are 25 years old and younger. So accustomed have we grown to seeing the faces of youth, boys in particular, as poster children during reports of petty and not so petty crime, we now take it for granted that young is just another word for criminal. We remain largely unmoved, even when a young body is discovered in some back alley or on a secluded beach. We are quick to label the victim as just another gang member, a nuisance to society; no need to invest in a homicide investigation. The reality is that there are far more young people seeking opportunities, studying diligently, dreaming of working their way to a better life by all means legal. Little is heard about them, since young people here are all tarred with the same brush. And the result is not a pretty sight. Small wonder that the number of frustrated young grows by the minute – at great cost to society.
It’s more than an old wives’ tale that children are often products of their environments. According to New York-based psychologist Vivian Diller in her Huffingtonpost article Teens Who Commit Crimes: What Can/Should Parents Do?: “Children are not born with a built-in set of the rules of morality, nor do they suddenly wake up one day as criminals. Lessons in ethics and manners have to start at home, and early.”
How many of us personally know of situations where parents are aware of their offspring’s unlawful behaviour but speak of it as a detachment from themselves? The “child” goes in and out of jail, while living under the overseeing parent’s roof, where there are no repercussions for bad behaviour, no sense of responsibility. It is an observation capable of igniting fury when witnessed first-hand. Despite how alarming, we cannot say this of every parent with criminal children. “Parents must do their part” is a phrase often thrown around but what of parents who have no understanding of what their part in their kids’ development entails?
Although reality may hint otherwise, extensive research has already been done on crime in our country and its causes. Studies like Professor Ramesh Deosaran’s Nationwide Survey on Fear of Crime and Community Policing in Saint Lucia have been conducted with the aim of inspiring our appointed leaders to move into action with crime prevention and crime reduction programmes. The findings of such surveys prove the significance and benefits of community involvement when combatting crime.
Professor Deosaran’s findings revealed that 90% of Saint Lucians are Christians and 87% know their neighbours either very well, or well. This indicates the presence of a “high degree of social capital, a viable basis for mobilizing persons toward community policing”. But how many of us have actually moved into action to show our readiness to reduce crime? The reality is disappointing but not surprising. On the question of whether communities actively hold neighbourhood meetings to discuss crime-related issues, 90% of the participants responded “no”, an indication that leadership within the community or from police is gravely needed.
In a long list of recommendations squeezed into valuable crime-related data, Deosaran mentions the possibility of creating common ground and collective action among residents in the various districts and facilitating civic partnerships with the National Crime Commission of Saint Lucia. He lists: “Systematic training in the foundation of community policing, involving methods of evaluation, alternative reporting systems, management and problem solving” as worthwhile initiatives. He also states as another viable option the establishment of police youth clubs which have “great potential in bridging the gap between the civic-minded youth and the deviant youth in communities”. But who really would be leading such clubs? There needs to be coordination on all fronts, involving the government, police, and the community with the implementation of robust policing systems and strategies.
The research has been done, yet nothing comes of it. Has it proven progressive to make crime all about the youth with our in-school violence prevention programmes and after-school initiatives? Or has it yielded little, only enabling a façade that things are being done? We cannot continue using youth involvement in crime to eclipse the broader picture. Reality shows us that those in their prime are springing forth from a socio-economic mess that they did not create. It cannot be good enough to pray that the Lord put a hand when we as a society keep our hands in our pockets and our eyes focused on the sky!