Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment Dwight Sutherland is disappointed about the rising level of criminal and violent activities among the youth, and he believes authorities aught to be more concerned.
Pointing to the number of people under the age of 35 currently in prison, Sutherland said his ministry was in the process of working with stakeholders to put a programme in place that would give inmates an opportunity to start a business after they are released.
Additionally, he is hoping that the Building Blocks Project, also known as ‘blockpreneurship’, will help to address the issue of youth unemployment and violence.
Sutherland’s comments were made at the opening of the Entrepreneurial Development Training Programme 2020 for the Building Blocks Project at Sky Mall, Haggatt Hall on Monday.
The four-week workshop, which is being led by the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (YES), is being held under the theme Set Up For Success.
“It is more than just addressing unemployment. It is addressing a fundamental social problem that we have in this country. We are not at the stage of Trinidad or Jamaica as it relates to crime, but we are seeing a high level of deviant behaviour within communities,” said Sutherland.
Referring to a recent shooting incident involving four men, one of whom evaded lawmen, Sutherland said: “It brought tears to my eyes to see that we have reached a stage where we are attacking the law enforcers of this country.
“We have a rising challenge of crime. It is at a level that we have to be concerned as a government and people in this country, and I think programmes such as these – the Building Block Project – can address the issues,” he said.
Sutherland pointed out that of the 852 inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds, 650 of them were under the age of 35.
It was reported early last year that the rate of recidivism at the St Philip facility was about 68 per cent.
Sutherland said he believed some of the approximately $29 million spent on the prison annually could be put towards the development of entrepreneurship in the country.
He said it was his intention, through the Ministry of Youth and Community Empowerment, to put the necessary preventative measures in place to help minimise crime and the number of convicts.
In that regard, he said his ministry was in the final process of putting together a project that would provide inmates with tools to “develop their own businesses” after they are released from prison.
“I can guarantee that some of those persons who are incarcerated at HMP Dodds have skills and ideas that could help this country and that can help their families. I am positive some of them have ideas that can help them become global citizens and transform this country and other lives. It brings tears to my eyes when I speak about this,” said Sutherland.
“Wouldn’t it be beautiful to take half of that money and spend on young people on blocks within communities. Wouldn’t it be beautiful to see half of those young women and men up there form businesses on blocks or wherever to reduce the incidences of crime?” he queried.
Stating that unemployment could lead to deviant behaviour among young people, Sutherland said he was hoping the Building Blocks Project would help to provide employment opportunities.
The first cohort of 17 young people in the programme will come together at the YES office in Sky Mall for the next four weeks where they will undergo training in personal development and business management.
Sutherland said he was committed to building out some 30 “building blocks sites” with entrepreneurs, adding that while he was happy the project was progressing he was saddened that limited funding prevented further expansion.
“The more we get you will see the high crime rate dropping because you have more persons engaging on the blocks in wholesome activities,” said Sutherland.
There are four “blocks” in the first phase of the project where individuals will be given kiosks to operate their businesses after their training. These are in Silver Hill, Christ Church, Parkinson Field in the Pine, Bonnetts in Britton’s Hill and the Ivy, St Michael.