OPINION: Crime prevention
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday August 8, 2011 - In the wake of the senseless and brutal killing of two persons in Barbados last weekend, a national groundswell of anger is natural as we vent our frustration with a crime situation that appears to be spiralling out of control. The demand for “something to be done” will continue and we will blame the Police and by extension our government for this state of affairs, since this agency is in the front line of the fight against crime. As was the case with the Campus Trends robbery and killing, there has already been a call for the “gallows to swing” and it is useful that CADRES was recently able to document the extent to which public concern about Crime immediately impacts (positively) on public support for the Death Penalty. Presumably, readers are equally aware of this author’s opposition to that form of punishment and the context in which these arguments are placed, which is a case that need not be repeated here.
In situations like these we often believe (wrongly) that harsh punishments can effectively “prevent crime” and while punishment is undoubtedly one of the most useful tools that the state can use to deter criminals it is certainly not the most effective. In life and public discourse experience teaches that effective solutions are generally never simple and often require considerable thought outside of the proverbial box. In pursuit of solutions we can drawn on the experience of medical science which teaches that it is more effective to prevent problems than to fix them; hence all of us were immunised against small pox, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, whopping cough and tetanus (every five years).
The logic of this strategy is compelling; however human nature is such that we who dabble in the newer sciences that examine human behaviour are considerably more challenged to demonstrate the logic of preventing deviant human behaviour. Therefore people can readily accept that protease inhibitors will prevent an HIV infected person from getting sick and will invest millions in these drugs, while the behavioural root cause of infection is frequently ignored even though effective behavioural change can be secured more cheaply. Therefore as one approaches the issue of crime prevention the preventative school faces immense challenges as it attempts to encourage public investment in its strategies, even though these are like the polio vaccine, cheaper and more effective. Notwithstanding, we need to urgently address this issue of crime prevention by seeking to understand the correlation between violent crime and the circumstances that violent criminals emerge from, which is not for one moment to say that such criminals’ acts should be excused.
It is interesting that recently, Barbados' Minister of Education Ronald Jones noted it is cheaper to educate children properly than to “lock them up” which demonstrates clearly that he and by extension our government appreciates there is an indisputable link between poor education and social deviance. This point needs to be reinforced since we have a proclivity in this country to note the success of those who do well, but ignore those who don’t until they present themselves as criminals in a viscous act such as the recent Barbados murders. We seem willing to accept the argument that criminals here (as elsewhere) are generally less-well educated but refuse accept the related point that if we did a better job of educating them we could substantially reduce crime.
We have done well in Barbados since free secondary and tertiary education has made it possible for more Barbadians to avail themselves of educational opportunities than was the case 30 years ago. Certainly we have done considerably better than our neighbours in this regard; however there is more that can be done and one wonders why we are hesitant to fix glaring deficiencies in our system of educational system. Specifically reference should be made to this “wonderful” method of selecting and nurturing our brightest and best with an “objective” test colloquially referred to as the 11+. This exam is defended by people here that it will offend most, although it has been condemned by progressive educators and most recently the National Commission on Education. This system inadvertently creates “educational ghettoes” which are incubators for social deviance in all its manifestations.
Our preoccupation with our promotion of the brightest causes us to miss the opportunity to provide meaningful opportunities for those of us who are not academically inclined. I was reminded recently that three of our outstanding “sons/daughters” who have all made a name for themselves internationally were all “academic underachievers” in the Barbadian sense of the word. Notwithstanding all three of these persons were able to flourish on account of opportunities that were presented for them to exploit their “God given talents”. Sadly, these are the exception with the vast majority of our “underachievers” being condemned by our systems and forced to turn to less savour support mechanisms like drugs, gangs and like minded criminals.
In the “old days” children who were “hard ears” had their educational challenges “fixed” with sound whippings that were frequently applied. Several of these children grew up to be criminals and then we discovered conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, poor support structures in the home and the more simple hearing and visual impairment. In support of this correlation, the National Task Force on Crime Prevention has indicated that the vast majority of our criminals manifest an array of social and educational challenges, but we continue to prefer to treat the symptom instead of the cause. (Originally published in the Nation News)
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peter W. Wickham. Peter W. Wickham (email@example.com) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).