I have written previously about the spate of violent crime in this country, and that men and boys appear to be both the most consistent perpetrators and victims. Needless to say, that trend has not abated.
And, in response to these violent trends there has been a great deal of rhetoric about being tougher on crime –– an assertion that warrants interrogation, if not for any other reason that heretofore it has not worked. Perhaps, it is time to evaluate a smarter approach to crime and violence.
To what extent does the country’s lone penal institution assist in decreasing rates of recidivism, and what would such a programme look like? Perhaps there needs to be an evaluation of the programmes offered at Dodds, so we ensure we are tooling inmates for a stable and prosperous future outside prison.
Tenets of a modern programme would include tutelage on entrepreneurial skills so that inmates have a legal way of sustaining themselves on the outside. Programmes like the Youth Entrepreneurial Scheme would be well suited for a role like this. Physcosocial help in dealing with any emotional or mental health issues that may exist so that inmates acquire the requisite tools and are made aware are necessary to reform antisocial practices.
Minors have appeared before the law courts quite a few times in recent weeks –– a reality that leads one to consider cause and effect. Is it the best way to get these children to reconsider their ways and resultantly be wiser? Does a prison term for a minor reinforce the notion of criminality as the only choice and harden these impressionable and misguided children?
Schools remain the concentrated and organized space in which children’s behavior can be monitored and changed. The resources to do this work must be given to schools, as evidence of commitment to our children and to the safety of our society.
It is difficult not to juxtaposition the constant stream of males being accused of illegal actions with the fact that 73.5 per cent of the University of the West Indies Cave Hill graduating class last weekend were female. Of course, a more sophisticated set of analysis is required to determine whether we should mark this as evidence of a crisis among men and boys.
However, I think it is evidence enough that an imbalance is at work.
The under-representation of men leads us to wonder what is happing within the educational system in this country, that lead males not to view higher learning as an option open to them.
Judges ought to be minded to balance the need to administer the law, recognizing that the aim particularly in these instances is to reform the individual, keeping them as far away as possible from what is in many cases the cycle of crime.
The juvenile justice programme has become a great deal more progressive in recent years to include “as an alternative to detention, the provision of community-based offending-focused and developmental programmes that specifically address risk factors linked to the individuals offending behaviour”, as well as “provision of specialized programmes that deliver forensic and other psychological testing, assessment and interventions that include the Violent Offender Programme and . . . casework management and extensive networking with other government and community-based services to link juvenile offenders to the support services they need to stay out of trouble and comply with their legal orders”.
Quite a few young men have been held over the last several weeks for marijuana possession –– at a moment when conversation about the decriminalization of the substance seems to be gaining attention, particularly in the light of the comments of the Attorney General last week where he contended that there was not a legitimate lobby for legal change. This would suggest to my mind that there is room for an organized body to make coordinated representation on the topic of decriminalization.
Perhaps now is the time to consider lighter penalties for those found guilty of possession and use of marijuana. I imagine this would be a worthwhile first step for the group which Mr Brathwaite conceives of. Lighter penalties would prevent many of the nation’s youth from living with a criminal record for something that many have attributed to the exuberance and experimentation that accompany their young age.
Like with so much else in life, the justice system is in part determined by capitalism. Those who can afford to pay for the best representation get it; those who can afford to foot the bill of bail get out. Money becomes an important consideration, as we have seen more and more minors taken before the court in recent times.
To what extent can these young people afford the representation that would militate against their enduring unduly long sentences and being branded for life, if in fact they are innocent.
Last week, 50 new attorneys-at-law were admitted to the Bar. While addressing the new lawyers, Attorney General Brathwaite encouraged them to practise law differently, specifically citing alternative dispute resolution and case management as techniques they should engage with as they embarked on their new career.
I would encourage the group, which includes one of my dearest friends, to reform the system from the inside. A significant part of that reformation should be about empathy and understanding, about the most robust representation for all who they come into contact with, about using their voices to advocate for greater efficiency in the system, about lending their talents to the causes of the least in our society.
We must reshape the justice system, as only a singular part of the greater reformation needed in our society. Part of reforming society is asking tough questions and making smart decisions about the direction of our society, and what we are seeking to achieve.
(Andwele Boyce is a young communicator who is passionate about politics and popular culture.
He holds a Master’s in international trade.)