NASSAU, Bahamas, Friday September 28, 2012 – Youth violence in several Caribbean countries is significantly above the world average and threatens the prosperity of the region.
Against this backdrop, “Partnering for crime prevention and social development” the fifth in a series of national consultations organized by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, convened in the Bahamas this week.
The two-day consultation, which was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with The Bahamas Ministries of National Security and Youth Sports and Culture, is part of a process that engages representatives from the public and private sectors, civil society, academia, affected youth, families and communities in dialogue in order to develop country-specific social interventions and crime prevention strategies to mitigate the alarmingly high incidence of youth crime and violence in the Caribbean region.
The initiative is a component of the four-pronged CARICOM Social Development and Crime Prevention Action Plan, which was developed in tandem with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The national consultation provided an exposé on the enormity of the problem in several member states, including The Bahamas, Belize, Guyana, and St Kitts and Nevis, and as member states grappled for solutions, the challenge of harnessing resources was clear.
The Bahamas Minister of National Security Dr Bernard Nottage pointed to several reports, including the most recent Caribbean Human Development Report (2012), which provided empirical evidence on the social determinants of youth crime and violence. Included were poverty, inequality in employment and under-employment, the growing economic gap between rich and poor, lack of parental guidance and the reluctance to pursue positive opportunities.
Dr Nottage stated that youth violence was an important development challenge worldwide, and therefore “youth development and youth empowerment must be important parts of our citizen security response”.
According to the minister: “Investments in reducing the risk factors associated with violent offending and victimization, coupled with strategies for boosting youth resilience can reduce or even reverse the negative impact of youth violence”.
Dr Nottage emphasized the need for the Caribbean to rethink its approaches to tackling crime and violence, insisting that “… we must address the fundamental social and economic development issues that predispose our youth to crime and violence”.
The minister went on to say that any response to youth crime and violence must address the structural, societal, community and individual risk factors that account for youth violence. He also stressed the importance of cooperation and partnerships in the successful implementation of any crime fighting strategy.
USAID representative John Armstrong underscored the importance of partnerships in tackling what he stated was an enormous challenge for both his country and the Caribbean region.
Armstrong, the charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in The Bahamas, was impressed with the multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach adopted by the CARICOM Secretariat in addressing crime prevention in the region.
He was also resolute that the strategies used in combating youth crime and violence must be unique to the context and realities of each region and country because “one size does not fit all”.
Darren Turnquest, the Bahamas Director of Youth in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, was optimistic that both regions could work together to put a serious dent in youth crime and violence.
He suggested that the punitive justice system that promotes incarceration had not succeeded in preventing youth crime and violence but instead had served to “reinforce a young offenders’ self-image as a failure, increase stress in the family and increase the likelihood that he or she will be placed outside the home in the future”.
Turnquest drew on the vision of the newly drafted CARICOM Youth Development Action Plan (CYDAP) to indicate that sound, consistent policies, programmes and laws were necessary, but by themselves were insufficient in developing “secure valued and empowered adolescents who can realize their full potential and contribute to a sustainable Caribbean Community”.
The World Bank–UNODC 2007 Report titled, “Crime, Violence and Development: Trends, Cost and Policy Options in the Caribbean” indicates that several countries are increasingly investing in crime prevention, using approaches such as integrated citizen security programs, crime prevention through environmental design, and a public health approach that focuses on risk factors for violent behaviour. These alternative approaches, the report states, have significant potential to generate decreases in both property crime and inter-personal violence.
The report also recommends that Caribbean policymakers invest in programmes that have been shown to be successful in careful evaluations. These include early childhood development and mentoring programmes; interventions to keep high risk youth in secondary schools; and opening schools after hours and on weekends to offer additional activities and training.
Crime prevention through social interventions nevertheless takes time, effort, dialogue, and a lot of resources. This last is cause for concern to Beverly Reynolds, CARICOM Secretariat Programme Manager for Sustainable Development, who has responsibility for leading the implementation of the CARICOM Social Development and Crime Prevention Action Plan.
Reynolds pointed to the worrying trends in youth violent gang related crimes particularly in the region’s schools and lamented the unavailability of resources to address these challenges.
Reynold’s experience with implementation in four other countries – Belize, Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago – indicated that workable interventions were being stalled and hope, especially among reformed gang members, evolved into despair because invariably there is no consistent source of funding to sustain these interventions.
She explained that even when funds were identified from international development partners, extensive delays in disbursements left the Secretariat with very little time to implement the interventions within the time-frame stipulated by the donor agency.
Reynolds urged participants at the national consultation to form partnerships across ministries and with the private sector, NGOS/FBO, youth and community organizations to maximize resources. She also encouraged sharing of best practices, and integrating crime prevention and intervention actions into existing successful programmes. In this way, projects could transition into sustainable programmes, she explained.