What practical and concrete measures can be taken to save Barbados from the scourge of violent crime?
Well, as long ago as January, 2008, the People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) outlined a series of commonsensical anti-crime policies in its general election manifesto. But, unfortunately, the sensible and well-considered policy prescriptions of the PEP were generally ignored, as the Barbadian people indulged their traditional fixation on Barbados’ two major political parties.
In light of the escalating crime in Barbados, it would do us well to give some consideration to the ideas advanced by the PEP over eight years ago.
The PEP’s direct anti-crime policies were:
The existing deep pockets of unemployment in various communities will be tackled! We do not want a society in which people drift into drug trafficking and crime because of unemployment, poverty and hopelessness. Every community that exhibits this vulnerability will be the target of a governmental intervention programme that offers counselling, jobs and work/study programmes to the unemployed residents
of that community.
New structures will be built in all major Government housing areas to provide buildings for the establishment of commercial businesses in the housing area. Such businesses will include shops, stores, restaurants, recreation facilities, barber shops, beauty parlours, bakeries, health and fitness facilities, and will be owned and operated by residents of the housing areas.
A National Consultation On Crime will be staged as a matter of urgency under the auspices of the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF). The National Consultation will consist of a series of community-based “groundings” involving senior officers of the RBPF and the people of Barbados.
Not only will it produce new ideas and insights on fighting crime, but it will also go some way towards developing enhanced levels of confidence and trust in the police.
We propose to disband the Barbados Defence Force and to revert to a much less expensive volunteer regiment. However, trained professional soldiers will not be sent home. Instead, they will be offered places in the Royal Barbados Police Force. This will help to increase the complement of police officers and will assist in the fight against crime.
Various studies have shown that there is a direct link between violent video games and movies, and the commission of crimes of violence. Video games based on mind-bending violence will be banned from Barbados, and a much stricter censorship policy will be applied to movies and DVDs featuring graphic violence.
The system of dumping all the low academic achievers in five or six secondary schools at the bottom of the ladder and all the high academic achievers in five or six secondary schools at the top of the ladder must be scrapped. We will sit down with the professional educators and their organizations and work out a more just, sensible and constructive system.
We will also ensure weaker students who need greater assistance get it, in the form of smaller classes, more individual attention, and access to remedial education teachers and programmes.
A comprehensive trade-centred adult education and skills training programme for all young adults who did not receive proper education and training in the school system will also be established, building on the foundations laid by the Skills Training Programme and the Polytechnic.
There is a crying need for prison reform in Barbados, and this need has only intensified with the construction of the new prison at Dodds. The new American-style prison is totally inappropriate for Barbados and will only serve to further alienate and harden the prison population.
Our prison reform measures will include the establishment of community-based “halfway houses” and other alternatives facilities for minor and first-time offenders; programmes designed to give prisoners at Dodds an avenue for some participation in and support from the community; educational programmes designed to raise the cultural level and political consciousness of prisoners; prison outreach initiatives that will match prisoners with mature and responsible persons in the community who will visit and take an interest in them; and a programme to assist prisoners to reintegrate into society. Young offenders will be placed in a separate facility with a programme based on education and rehabilitation.
In recognition of the fact that at least one-half of convicted offenders are afflicted with drug or alcohol addiction problems, Government will construct a major drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, and will provide the law courts with a small team of psycholgists who will be available to interview, examine and treat offenders and proffer advice and recommendations to magistrates.
It should also be noted that the PEP did not confine itself to direct anti-crime measures. This young political party also recognized measures were required to nurture the psyches of our youth, and to fortify them against the forces that lead to crime.
Some of these suggested measures were:
1. Our youth must be intimately aware of their heritage. If they don’t know what is theirs and are not deeply rooted in an understanding of their history and culture, they will be carried away by every passing cultural whim and fancy. Thus, we will ensure that African and Caribbean studies programmes are implemented at all levels of the school system, and in the informal education system as well.
We will also make it a point of duty to place outstanding books by Barbadian authors such as In The Castle Of My Skin and the biographies of our outstanding cricketers on the school curriculum.
2. Our youth must be able to see themselves reflected in all the major national institutions of Barbados, thereby giving them a sense of their importance and worth, and helping them to avoid developing the “false consciousness” associated with cultural penetration. Our television programming, for example, must feature and reflect the presence, input, culture and creativity of our Barbadian youth in a much more significant way than obtains now.
When our young people turn on their television sets, they must not be constantly bombarded with images of white American teenagers: rather, they must see their own Barbadian life and culture, and their own Barbadian teenage television stars. We propose to open up all major national instructions to participation by and input from our Barbadian youth!
3. Government will establish a national programme to motivate and assist every major organization in Barbados to establish youth leadership development programmes as integral components of their organizational structures.
I now conclude by once again humbly commending these policies to the current governmental administration.
(David A. Comissiong, attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)